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Health Records and Patient Privacy: How to Strike a Balance

, Health Records and Patient Privacy: How to Strike a Balance

Electronic health records are a staple of the modern healthcare industry. They allow for communication among physicians regarding a patient’s medical history, including their prescription medication use, allergy information, family medical history, and history of surgical procedures. This information is vital when physicians are prescribing a new course of treatment or when establishing and verifying a patient’s family medical history. Without an accurate electronic health record, physicians often cannot make an accurate diagnosis for many advanced conditions. Due to the importance of the medical information within, as well as its chances to impact every aspect of a patient’s life, health information is generally confidential, although that confidentiality may be suspended in special circumstances.

The primary controversy in health information privacy is who else gets to see that information and in what context? Employers in many areas can already view the health information for new employees if the employee in question will be participating in the company’s health insurance benefits. Some public health advocates have called into the question the ethics of such a practice, citing potential for abuse resulting from employers using medical information to disqualify potential job candidates from employment. Though such discrimination is technically illegal, it is also difficult to confirm as the only cause for such discrimination (i.e. companies who practice such discrimination would likely keep all job search information internally).

Health information privacy also has ramifications for the financial sector. What if banks and loan companies had access to your electronic medical records? This information would then be taken into account when considering car loans, home loans, or other major financial decisions that have the potential to greatly enhance (or inhibit, depending on the decision) a family’s quality of life. Patient advocates (laypersons that specialize in knowledge regarding specific areas of the healthcare industry) have cited this as a rationale for the continued protection of health information privacy (re: HIPAA).

There are exceptions to the general confidentiality of electronic medical records, however. It is largely a common practice to suspend the health information privacy rights of minors, given that many young children are not able to adequately communicate their symptoms (as well as their possible environmental causes) to a physician. Parents typically manage this responsibility instead. Though this practice shows few signs of changing within the healthcare industry, parents who are interested in giving their children more medical privacy can talk to their physician to see what options may be available regarding electronic health record transfer. There may be extenuating or special circumstances in which parents are able to grant their children more medical autonomy, but this must not come at the cost of patient safety.

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