Privacy goes public

When it comes to advancing healthcare IT you’re more likely to hear about standards, interoperability, sustainability and affordability before you’ll hear about privacy. Most smart legislators and federal officials know to mention it in their second breath or in the fine print, but not front and center.

I’d venture to guess that recent turn of events are going to change all that.

Deborah Peel, MD, staunch activist for privacy, practicing psychiatrist and founder of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, won some major ground last month in her effort to capture attention – everyone’s attention – on the issue of privacy and medical records.

First, Microsoft, Inc. launched a platform Oct. 4 for personal health records that will strictly abide by privacy standards that Peel and a coalition of activists agree will keep control in the patient’s hands.

Now suddenly the radar is bleeping with activity. This has private industry’s attention. Will everyone in the healthcare IT business have to decide to abide by the privacy principles Microsoft has embraced or be left behind? Peel thinks so.

To back that up, Peel and the Coalition for Patient Privacy came to Capitol Hill Oct. 18 to formally urge Congress to pass basic privacy protections this year. “Setting national privacy standards is a job for Congress, not unelected agency appointees, who for the most part represent industry,” they said.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) gave an address at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C. on the same day, endorsing healthcare IT as a cornerstone of improving America’s floundering healthcare system. She proposed a healthcare IT bill this summer with what some would call strong privacy language.

But not strong enough for Peel, who says she has yet to see a bill coming out of Washington with the kind of protection Americans need to ensure their lives are not destroyed by rampant exposure of private health and genetic information that could bring about prejudice in the workplace, at a very minimum.

As if on cue, a bevy of curious healthcare workers took a peek at George Clooney’s medical records last month, causing swift disciplinary action by Palisades Medical Center, where Clooney was being treated. A media blitz ensued, rounding off a month unlike any we have seen when it comes to shedding light on the issue of privacy.