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DRUG INDUSTRY’s UNAUTHORIZED USE OF MEDICAL RECORDS FOR PROMOTIONS

Executive Summary

DRUG INDUSTRY's UNAUTHORIZED USE OF MEDICAL RECORDS FOR PROMOTIONS OPPOSED by 60% of 1,000 & respondents participating in a Louis Harris and Associates study of health care privacy issues. Entitled Health Information Privacy Survey 1993, the report notes that "most people are opposed to the use of their medical information without their permission for direct mail about new medication." "The concern of the public about having their medical records used without their approval is also evident when the subject is medical research," the survey adds. Specifically, 64% of respondents agreed that their permission should be required before their patient records are released to medical researchers who are studying the causes of diseases. Commissioned by Equifax, an Atlanta-based provider of consumer financial information services, the survey was released at an Oct. 29 conference on the issue of privacy and health care reform in Washington, D.C. According to the study, respondents ranked "protecting the confidentiality of people's medical records" as the third most important feature of any health care program, cited by 85% of respondents as an "absolutely essential" aspect of health care reform. Only fighting health care fraud and controlling health care costs were rated more highly than privacy, which was judged more important than expanding access to the uninsured, reducing paperwork and improving research on diseases and treatments. Evaluating the possible elements of health care reform, the survey found that three-quarters of respondents feared that medical information placed into a computerized national health information system would be used for non-medical purposes. Nevertheless, 54% of participants still believed that "a person's medical privacy in a national system will probably be better protected than it currently is." Included in the legislative language delivered by President Clinton to Capitol Hill Oct. 27 is the Comprehensive Health Information Privacy Protection Act. Under the proposal's provisions, "not later than three years after the date of the enactment of this act...the National Health Board shall submit to the President and the Congress a detailed proposal for legislation to provide a comprehensive scheme of federal privacy protection for individually identifiable health information." In addition, the act would establish a National Privacy and Health Data Advisory Council that would advise the National Health Board. Upon the creation of a national health care information system, the National Health Board would be required to promulgate standards "respecting the privacy of individually identifiable health information that is in the health information system." Furthermore, the President's proposal would require each health plan "to take such measures as may be necessary to ensure that health care information...is not distributed to any individual or entity in violation of a standard promulgated by the board." At the Oct. 29 conference, House Ways and Means/Health Subcommittee Chairman Stark (D-Calif.) maintained that the privacy of health care records should not become a major issue during the debate on system reform. However, he did warn that privacy might become a "point we could get hung up on" that would slow the progress of reform legislation. On the other hand, Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.) told the session that privacy is a vital issue. "Privacy has got to be the cornerstone of health care reform," he urged, maintaining that any new federal law must address the rapid advancements in technology that could facilitate the inappropriate uses of medical records. Leahy's Senate Judiciary/Technology and the Law Subcommittee currently is conducting a series of hearings focusing on the implications of high technology for privacy in health care reform.
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