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David P. Smith: Your Medical Record Is Not Private
Monday, September 16, 2013 9:10 AM

The time has come for every patient to be very knowledgeable about the privacy of your medical record and inquire as to what is being put into the records.  With the latest revelations that have come from the leaked documents which are slowly emerging from the surfeit of files taken by Edward Snowden, it is apparent that the very means of keeping electronic medical records secure are not really that secure.  It was revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has quietly been succeeding at overcoming most encryption technology that is used to protect most documents that were thought to be securely kept online, including banking, medical records, and encrypted email.  Also, there has been success reportedly at overcoming the privacy of what is called VPN (virtual private network) which all businesses having remote connectivity use, including hospitals.  Ironically, we have laws in place that are supposed to guarantee the privacy of records (HIPPA), in an attempt to prohibit non-approved individuals from accessing them or being given information, however, the same government which passed these laws has devised ways to break these very same laws secretly through the actions of the NSA.

This is a complete violation of trust and needs to be strongly opposed by the citizens making their desires known to their representatives and senators immediately.  Physicians, clinics, and hospitals can be severely penalized financially for any release inappropriately of medical information; the government which devised and passed these laws should also submit itself to these laws, not flagrantly violate them and smugly act as if it doesn’t matter.  True leaders in government are servants to the people, not lords over them.  We are supposed to have a republic in America, not tyranny. 

Recently, a patient, who happened to be a veteran, visited my clinic.  What was alarming, and is not something novel, was that the patient was having health issues that made the patient fearful of going to the Veterans Administration for healthcare.  There was nothing that involved threats to the patient or anyone else, but sensitive and embarrassing problems can happen to anyone.  The confidentiality of the relationship and medical records kept has to be maintained or the result is that patients will not disclose the true nature of their problems; this results in harm to the patient and prevents the physician from being able to truly help the patient.  The same hyper-regulated governmental system that causes fear of loss of privacy among veterans is what is being pushed upon all citizens now.  The results are not going to be beneficial for the doctor-patient relationship and will result in harm occurring to patients if they cannot feel comfortable to discuss whatever is on their minds when they see their physicians without having to worry about what is being written into the record.

I would recommend that patients be very aware of how their medical records are being stored and what safeguards are in place to protect them from snooping eyes.  Even if the records are very difficult to access from the internet, they still could be accessed by anyone with the knowledge to do so.  Records should be encrypted as they are stored to help limit anyone being able to decipher them if the files were obtained.  There is a growing usage of “cloud” networks in which your medical records are stored on some remote computer that might not even be in the same state; it is best if your physician and hospital store your records only on site with an encrypted backup of the files in the possession of the physician or hospital designated person in case of disaster at the main site of storage.  Given the knowledge now of methods of overcoming current encryption technology, it will be necessary to devise newer, more secure ways of encrypting medical data so that your medical records can stay between you and your physician, like it should be.  

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