Greatest HIPAA risk is private lawsuits

November 1, 2007

Actor George Clooney was hospitalized recently after a minor motorcycle accident. He cracked a rib, but that wasn't the worst of it. Star-struck hospital employees who weren't involved in his care accessed his medical record, no doubt hoping to find some celebrity gossip.

Two dozen employees were suspended without pay once Palisades Medical Center discovered the breach. Clooney himself knew nothing of it, but later commented he didn't think it was right for those employees to access his records but also didn't think any serious discipline was required.

Penalties outlined by HIPAA for privacy violations can be criminal or civil, and include fines or imprisonment or both-assuming anyone is bothering to enforce the rules.

The biggest risk with HIPAA violation seems to be private lawsuits. Clooney would certainly have a good case.

As giant brands get involved in the personal-health-record space, such as Microsoft with its new HealthVault and Google's Google Health, they will have to win the public's trust in their tight security first. It will be a major marketing issue as much as a compliance issue.

If a patient with diabetes accesses her personal health record online and immediately afterward sees an electronic ad for sugar-free snacks-although a complete coincidence-she might get spooked. She might think her health-record host sold her out. And that loss of trust would be a huge setback for the potential benefits of personal health records.

Nearly three in five Americans believe the privacy of their health information is not well protected, according to a survey released by Harris Interactive last month. The Coalition for Patient Privacy released a letter last month as well, stating that current regulations leave personal health information "completely vulnerable and exposed." HIPAA has its good intentions, but we have a lot more work to do.

YOUR THOUGHTS

Kudos to the Kaiser Family Foundation for the side-by-side comparison of presidential candidates' healthcare reform proposals it recently launched online. You can compare program costs, impact on private plans, and a number of other critical points, head-to-head. I encourage you to visit http://kff.org/ and see more.

Perhaps you have your mind made up about who you'll vote for-or perhaps who you'll vote against-in 2008. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on all the candidates' reform plans.

Please send me an e-mail with your comments about the candidates, and I'd like to consider them for possible inclusion in a future Special Report. I can be reached at julie.miller@advanstar.com
.

Looking forward to following up with you.

Julie Miller is editor-in-chief of MANAGED HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE She can be reached at julie.miller@advanstar.com