Medical Privacy Laws

25 09 2010

“The intensity and complexity of life…have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury” (Warren, et al).  This was the finding of US Supreme Court Justices Warren and Brandeis and while it may seem a reflection on modern-day privacy invasions as a result of the technological age, they were writing more than a century ago.  When they write of the anguish endured by an individual who has suffered from a violation of privacy, a visual image is presented of the intensity that such a violation can present in the life of that innocent individual.

Privacilla, an independent organization which works with government and citizens alike to reveal the impact of privacy violations, finds that the fear of privacy not remaining private in the healthcare field can actually endanger and cost lives.  The organization states that persons may avoid seeking treatment for health concerns to avoid the greater concern of having their medical information being made public; or that they may avoid full disclosure to their physician, causing the diagnosis to have a risk of inaccuracy (Privacilla).  “Indeed, there have been reports that people were denied or lost their jobs or insurance coverage when information about their [health] was disclosed,” agrees Charity Scott (Humber, et al, 8).  She goes on to quote a former health insurance employee, “I can tell you unequivocally that patient confidentiality is not eroding-it can’t erode, because it’s simply nonexistent” (Humber, et al, 3).

The privacy laws, such as HIPAA and its Privacy Rule, are designed to protect that privacy, by creating standards and guidelines for all physicians and medical facilities to follow (Fremgen, 226-7).  These laws are executed on a federal level and are designed to protect the citizens from having their private health information made known outside of the necessary interaction with their medical professional.  Many states have similar laws, with much more stringent requirements.  For example, in California, the citizen may sue an organization for privacy violations, whereas the federal law only permits the federal government to bring charges for violations made (Georgetown University).

Without these laws in place, one can only imagine the extremes of violations against innocent citizens that could occur:  financial institutions could call in loans on customers that have been diagnosed with end stage cancers; Fortune 500 businesses could make hiring determinations based on ill-gotten medical history; convicted pedophiles could obtain contact information of susceptible minors.  As an aside, each of these examples are documented occurrences of privacy violations which have taken place in the past, prior to these laws being enacted (Humber, et al, 8-9).  “Every American deserves to live in freedom, to have his or her privacy respected…regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or economic circumstances” (Dodd).


Works Cited

Dodd, Christopher. “Privacy Quotes.” Famous Quotes and Quotations at BrainyQuote. Web. 30 Sept. 2010. <;.

Fremgen, Ph.D., Bonnie F. Medical Law and Ethics. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.

Georgetown University. “Center on Medical Record Rights and Privacy, Georgetown University.”Georgetown Health Policy Institute. Ed. Jill Burrington-Brown, MS, RHIA, Lawrence Hughes, Mary Kuffner, and Elizabeth LaRocca. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <;.

Humber, James M., Charity Scott, and Robert F. Almeder. Privacy in Health Care. Totowa: Humana, 2001.

“The Importance of Medical Privacy.” Privacilla. 18 Feb. 2001. Web. 29 Sept. 2010. <;.

Warren, Samuel D., and Louis D. Brandeis. ““The Right to Privacy”.” Harvard Law Review IV.5 (1890). MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory | CSAIL. 18 May 1996. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <;.





One response

8 01 2011


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