Minnesota has the authority to collect medical data on nearly every state resident, but the state health department first must clarify how patients will be identified in the records to protect their privacy, an administrative law judge ruled yesterday. Health department officials have said the database would allow them to study disease clusters and scrutinize the healthcare system for ways to improve care. Identifying information would be deleted or encrypted, they said. The Citizens' Council on Health Care, St. Paul, Minn., has been fighting the health department's proposal, claiming it infringes on resident's privacy. Not only will patients "lose control over their private personal information," but patients' relationships with their physicians will change, council President Twila Brase said. "Patients will think very carefully about what they say to their physicians," Brase said. "They may choose to omit or withhold certain information that may be beneficial to share."
The Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership, which represents the state's 139 hospitals, has not taken a stand on the issue, although hospitals likely would have to budget more money for technologies that protect privacy, an MHHP spokeswoman said. The organization estimates the health department would receive approximately 5 million submissions annually. Once the health department determines how it will identify patients in records, the judge will sign off on the proposal. Gov. Jesse Ventura then would have 14 days to allow the new rule to go into effect or to veto it. -- Patrick Reilly