Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 26, 2009


Robert Pear, NY Times - President-elect Barack Obama's plan to link up doctors and hospitals with new information technology, as part of an ambitious job-creation program, is imperiled by a bitter, seemingly intractable dispute over how to protect the privacy of electronic medical records. . .

Lawmakers, caught in a crossfire of lobbying by the health care industry and consumer groups, have been unable to agree on privacy safeguards that would allow patients to control the use of their medical records.

Congressional leaders plan to provide $20 billion for such technology in an economic stimulus bill whose cost could top $825 billion. . .

So far, the only jobs created have been for a small army of lobbyists trying to secure money for health information technology. They say doctors, hospitals, drugstores and insurance companies would be much more efficient if they could exchange data instantaneously through electronic health information networks. Consumer groups and some members of Congress insist that the new spending must be accompanied by stronger privacy protections in an era when digital data can be sent around the world or posted on the Web with the click of a mouse.

Lawmakers leading the campaign for such safeguards include Representatives Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Pete Stark of California, both Democrats; Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont; and Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine.

Without strong safeguards, Mr. Markey said, the dream of electronic health information networks could turn into "a nightmare for consumers."

In the last few years, personal health information on hundreds of thousands of people has been compromised because of security lapses at hospitals, insurance companies and government agencies. These breaches occurred despite federal privacy rules issued under a 1996 law. Congress is trying to strengthen those privacy protections and make sure they apply to computer records. Lobbyists for insurers, drug benefit managers and others in the health industry are mobilizing a campaign to persuade Congress that overly stringent privacy protections would frustrate the potential benefits of digital records.

One of the proposed safeguards would outlaw the sale of any personal health information in an electronic medical record, except with the patient's permission.

Another would allow patients to impose additional controls on certain particularly sensitive information, like records of psychotherapy, abortions and tests for the virus that causes AIDS. Patients could demand that such information be segregated from the rest of their medical records.

Under other proposals being seriously considered in Congress, health care providers and insurers would have to use encryption technology to protect personal health information stored in or sent by computers. Patients would have a right to an accounting of any disclosures of their electronic data. Health care providers and insurers would have to notify patients whenever such information was lost, stolen or used for an unauthorized purpose. And patients - or state officials acting on their behalf - could recover damages from an entity that improperly used or disclosed personal health information. . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you read your own medical records now and then you will be astounded at how inaccurate they are. You can't evaluate erroneous test results, but notes medical personnel write can be wildly off... by confusion, inattention, etc. and sometimes clearly self-serving to cover up mistakes, second- guess diagnoses, etc. Widely circulated these errors can become untraceable and cast in stone.

January 27, 2009 8:43 PM  
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February 9, 2009 9:40 PM  

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