Protecting Medical Privacy

Menu cards for the dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II placed on top of each place setting in the State Dining room on the State Floor of the White House Monday, May 7, 2007, in Washington. Thirteen tables will accommodate guests for the white-tie event. GETTY IMAGES/Chip Somodevilla

To Terri Seargent, it was the ultimate violation of privacy. First, she learned she had a fatal genetic disease called alpha one, which destroys the lungs. Then she was mysteriously fired, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"Very sorry to tell you, but you are being released from your position," is how Seargent recalled being fired.

She learned later her boss had seen her medical records.

"It was a cover, because he didn't want to pay the cost of my treatment... because it didn't effect my work. It was none of his business," charged Seargent.

Last week the federal government had a deadline to impose the first national medical privacy regulations that in part, would have protected workers like Terri Seargent from being fired based on their medical condition.

Tips For
Protecting Your Privacy
The Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University advises the following steps for protecting your privacy:

  • Request a copy of your medical record.
  • Request a copy of your file from the Medical Information Board.
  • Talk about confidentiality concerns with your doctor.
  • Read authorization forms before you sign; edit them to limit the sharing of information.
  • Register your objection to disclosures that you consider inappropriate.
  • Be cautious on health Web sites.

    Click here to learn more about protecting your privacy.
  • The problem is, while the Bush administration says it's committed to privacy, it has put those rules on hold so it can hear new objections from industry groups like hospitals and HMOs. Privacy advocates say the move guarantees lobbying mischief and delay.

    "The worst case scenario is that these privacy regulations, which have been years in the making will never see the light of day," said Jan Lori Goldman of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University.

    But the health care industry says it only wants to tweak the rules, not toss them out. Some argue the rules as written could delay emergency care or the filling of a prescription without specific written consent.

    "There are impediments to the flow of information and that's where there are going to be quality problems that patients will feel," said Richard Smith of the American Association of Health Plans.

    Terri Seargenbelieves every day that goes by without federal privacy rules in place is dangerous. "Our information can be in anybody's hands, in anybody's computer, at any time."

    And that, she says, forces thousands of patients to avoid the doctor out of fear the boss will learn they are ill.


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    • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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