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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Essay on Confidentiality of Healthcare Information

The issue of confidentiality in the aspect of health information is not new.  However, in the 21st Century, considering the advancements in our technology, the public has become conscious of the way medical records are being handled by physicians.  Gone are the days by which our family doctors kept our medical records in their filing cabinets.  In those years we know that our records are safely locked and kept in cabinets.  Now with the advancements in health care technology, health information are being collected and stored in computers with very few legal and ethical safeguards.  With the development of the Internet technology, our medical records can be instantly retrieved and accessed not only by our physicians but also by insurance companies and their staff. 

Taking into account the issues surrounding the confidentiality of information relating to health, several statutes have been passed to protect it.  One of these statutes is The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 which requires that information relating to the health of the patient may not be released except to the individual himself. (Dan Coate 2)  It may however be released to third persons provided there is a written authorization to that effect.  Written authorizations must include the name and signature of the individual, the types of individuals authorized to disclose health information and the nature of the health information to be disclosed, the name of the person to whom the information will be disclosed, the specific purpose for the disclosure, period or the duration for which the third person may obtain such information.  Health information may also be released to a third person by virtue of an oral authorization.  It must be stressed that though the records may be owned by the physician or the health care facility, the information kept therein are still private and personal as such, the individual patient who may have given his authorization also has the discretion to revoke the same. 

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One of the sites consulted for this essay is the website of American College of Healthcare Executives. It posted an article on health Information Confidentiality which emphasized the importance of confidentiality of health information and the difficulty of maintaining it in view of the advancements in technology (“Health Information Confidentiality”, 2004, p.2) .   It also stressed the exceptions to confidentiality such as when the disclosure is necessary to promote public health, protect children and spouses from abuse and comply with certain laws.

In an article by Victor S. Dorodny entitled “”Security and confidentiality of health information systems: implications for physicians” which was published in Physician Executive, the author stressed the responsibility of employees of health care organizations in maintaining privacy of patient information.  For this purpose, he suggested that every employee should have a unique identifier so that every time they log onto the information system, there will be audit trials that will enable the organization to document the access to information. 

In the article by Mark Hagland entitled “Confidence and confidentiality”, he emphasized the things that could go wrong when information about patients are kept in computers and accessed without authorization by a criminal.  He said that there was an incident in the past when a child rapist who worked at Newton-Wellesley Hospital used a former employee’s computer password to gain access to phone number of female patients to whom he made obscene calls.

In this article written by Madelyn L. Isaacs entitled “Confidentiality with minors: mental health counselors' attitudes toward breaching or preserving confidentiality” she emphasized that the issue surrounding confidentiality of health information is more complicated when the patient is a minor since it may interfere with the child’s well-being.  

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