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Disclosure, not privacy

September 03, 2008

Re "Bill targets health record spying," Aug. 27

The Legislature is absolutely right to address the rampant breaches of patient confidentiality.

But the high-profile cases of hospital employees sneaking a peak at celebrity records is merely the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that most people are unaware of the extent to which the law allows wide-open access to their medical records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was supposed to be a privacy law. Instead, it serves as a disclosure law.

The Bush administration amended HIPAA early on to make it absolutely legal for physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare entities to release your personal health information for purposes of treatment, payment or so-called healthcare operations. Your records can be legally released for routine purposes without your consent, without your knowledge and over your objection.

If legislators want to fix a gaping hole in privacy protection, they should be sure to legislate what has been the cornerstone of medical ethics since the time of Hippocrates. Absent an emergency, your personal health information should remain personal and protected. Patients' right to consent must be restored.

Janis Chester, MD

President, American Assn.

of Practicing Psychiatrists

Dover, Del.

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