Although many healthcare providers see value in collecting, measuring and interpreting patient-specific medical information, the downside can't be overemphasized.
Privacy, security and confidentiality of medical records should remain the No. 1 focus in all aspects of healthcare information efforts. The recent 28-page proposal by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners offers a good starting point for strengthening state privacy laws. The plan requires insurers to establish procedures to protect confidentiality of insurance records. The NAIC also would hold insurers accountable for how the information is used by providers and others.
Most providers and insurers are sensitive to how information is collected and used. The "others" are of most concern. For instance, think of the many ways finance companies, medical equipment manufacturers and database marketers could massage individual medical records. Sometimes, the inappropriate use of patient information occurs because of silly or stupid mistakes. MODERN HEALTHCARE reporter J. Duncan Moore Jr. found a series of blunders during his coverage of the Baptist Medical Center probe in Kansas City, Mo. In reviewing a 161-page motion filed by federal prosecutors, Moore discovered nine pages of laboratory billing records complete with patient names.
It turns out a Baptist employee faxed the records to the hospital's outside attorney without blotting out patient names. The records were later subpoenaed, but no effort was made to conceal the names, so they ended up in a public record.
Before the government assigns a medical identification number to every American, the healthcare industry should develop ways to protect medical data as the government devises ways to harshly punish those who misuse the information.