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The Privacy Scare Game

March 25, 2010
4:02 pm

The op-ed piece by Deborah Peel, who heads the Coalition for Patient Privacy, that appeared in The Wall Street Journal this week received an inordinate amount of attention.  That’s because Matt Drudge of the popular Drudge Report website seized upon the Journal’s headline, “Your Medical Records Aren’t Secure” and listed it among several other stories critical of President Obama’s healthcare plan.

But Dr. Peel’s op-ed wasn’t criticizing the President.  The targets of her op-ed included hospitals, pharmacies, employers and a litany of others who are out to plunder our personal medical records for financial gain.  And, she alleges, these violations of confidentiality are even easier and more likely when health records are maintained electronically instead of on paper.  She insists that the answer lies in giving patients the responsibility to decide what information they choose to share with medical professionals and what to keep secret.

Dr. Peel’s logic train goes off the tracks rather quickly.  First of all, it’s simply not true that electronic records are less secure than paper ones.  In her op-ed, she chooses to not acknowledge the role HIPAA privacy laws have played in keeping health information confidential.  She ignores the new laws adopted earlier this year that strongly encourage encryption of electronic data and that impose new criminal and civil penalties for privacy violations.  And you would never know from the op-ed in the Journal that hospitals, insurers and physicians throughout the country have taken extraordinary steps to safeguard patient data.

So we can see that any privacy “crisis” is overblown.  The greater problem lies in the proposed solutions.

Giving patients the responsibility to decide which portions of their medical records should be open to healthcare professionals is, at best, unreasonable and, at worst, potentially deadly.  It is highly unlikely that a patient without a medical background can make a sound decision on what information a physician might need to provide quality treatment.

But an even greater potential harm lies in the society-wide impact of ill-advised patient consent proposals.  Enabling system-wide picking and choosing of what data enters the flow of essential information will have an impact on the many beneficial actions that are dependent upon information collection and analysis, such as:

•       Reporting and tracking incidences of disease for public health purposes
•       Monitoring the quality and safety of medical products
•       Carrying out product recalls
•       Medical research into lifesaving cures and treatments.

Our health system has dual objectives in this regard.  We need to protect patient confidentiality while, at the same time, preserving the vital flow of information that protects, extends and saves lives.  Some, as Dr. Peel’s op-ed demonstrates, lose sight of the need to maintain that balance.  The fact is, though, that you should never have to choose between privacy and excellent healthcare, and we don’t have to.

Welcome to Prognosis

April 24, 2009
8:29 am

According to those in the know on such things, there is a new blog created every half-second.  That means 175,000 new blogs are finding a home on the Internet every single day.  That’s a staggering figure for those of us who struggle to find time to get through the entire newspaper in the morning.

Given this abundance of information on the Web, one needs a pretty compelling rationale to erect another dwelling in this already-crowded community.

Then again, there are few subjects as important as healthcare or, more specifically, better understanding the state of our nation’s healthcare system and its future.

That’s not to say there is a scarcity of interesting and insightful voices bringing provocative perspectives on health issues to the blogosphere.  Anyone who wants to add both breadth and depth to their understanding of today’s key health policy debates should add sites like the National Journal Health Blog or Disruptive Women in Health Care to their must-read list.

The niche we want to create for Prognosis is the nexus at which policy meets practice. The organization I head, the Healthcare Leadership Council, has a membership that includes many of the nation’s premier hospitals, academic health centers, innovative pharmaceutical and medical device companies, health insurers, pharmacies and health care services companies.

We’re going to discuss policy on this blog, but we’re also going to make readers more aware of the innovations taking place in healthcare delivery, financing and technology, and how health policy and healthcare practices affect one another.  As Congress tackles the tough issues of how we pay for and deliver healthcare while expanding access to every American, let’s have a robust discussion as to the real-world impact possible policy decisions may have on patients, physicians, hospitals and medical researchers.

Our blog title, by the way, stems from the Greek word prognostikos.  It means “to have knowledge beforehand.” Not that we’re claiming to predict the future in this space, but we hope that a better understanding of what’s happening today in American healthcare will better enable us to participate in the debate that will shape, hopefully, an exciting tomorrow.