How private is your medical record?

From the Health Care Ethics Blog (7/7/09)

During the past week, it has been impossible not to catch some of the coverage surrounding the recent deaths of many public figures including Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mayes and Michael Jackson. Specifically, the death of Michael Jackson was such an unexpected, shocking event that many people are now looking into the medical charts to determine if there was a medical reason behind his early passing. Everything surrounding his death has become such a huge, public media circus from his will, his children, and his financial status at the time of his passing. The prescriptions that he was taking and his physical condition during the past few weeks and months has all been released to the media already. Everyday, more information is being revealed surrounding Jackson’s medical health. However, should there be a limit to the amount of medical information that is released to the media surrounding these public figures ? How private are the medical records for these public figures ?

In an article from Fox News titled, Celebrity Medical Records Hacked: Are You at Risk ?, the release of medical records of Maria Shriver, Farrah Fawcett, and George Clooney were all snooped through by employees of the hospital. In April of 2008, the medical records of 30 high-profile patients, including Maria Shriver had their confidential records breached at UCLA medical center. The woman behind the Shriver case, Lawanda J. Jackson was also responsible for improperly looking at 61 patients’ medical records before she resigned in May 2007. However, it is not just celebrities whose medical records are being looked at without the patient’s consent.

Dr. Deborah Peel, founder and chairwoman of Patient Privacy Rights, a non-profit advocacy group, stated that “essentially, all medical records are up for sale to large corporations, research facilities and drug companies.” She goes on to say that “by signing a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act consent form, you not only are giving your doctor and insurance company access to your medical record, but you may be giving them permission to sell your information as well.” Linda Sanches, senior advisor for HIPAA Privacy Outreach states that “The privacy rule requires health care providers to give patients a notice of privacy practices to provide them with important information on how their health information may be used and disclosed, as well as what their rights are with respect to their information and how the individual can exercise these rights.” Many consumers are not aware of every right that is included when they sign the HIPAA statement at physician offices. Bottom line, patient’s need to be fully aware of what they are signing when they enter doctor offices. In the Shriver case, clearly this type of action was not warranted by the patient. However, the HIPAA privacy rule allows more than just the physician and patient to review the medical records, which is something very few people are aware of.


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