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WikiLeaks: What It Means For Healthcare Privacy

From the official White House statement yesterday regarding WikiLeaks disclosure of diplomatic cables:

“By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights, but also the lives and work of the individuals. We condemn in strongest terms, the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”

No matter what people think of WikiLeaks disclosure of approximately 250,000 classified diplomatic cables to the Internet yesterday with the help of the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde, the implications to electronic healthcare information security are significant.

Day in and day out, I type huge volumes of information on my patients on a computer and my fellow physicians do the same. As a result, vast healthcare information warehouses are at the disposal of the government, insurers, and major healthcare institutions eager to become more efficient, strategic, or competitive. We are promised the information is private, confidential, and even stripped of its identifiers for group analysis. It is even protected to remain so by law.

And now we find that even the government’s most sensitive and classified diplomatic data is subject to disclosure somehow, some way. Worse, once the leak occurs, the government is powerless to correct the breech.

While a single individual’s private healthcare information may not carry the gravitas of wartime communiqués, each of us deals with famous patients who might not want their diagnosis, HIV status, or drinking history spread far and wide. For them, this private information might be just as personally damaging as anything disclosed by WikiLeaks.

Yet in our new era of the electronic medical record and government funding of healthcare in America, we now find that this potential loss of our healthcare privacy is the price (and risk) for care we’ll have to accept.

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*


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One Response to “WikiLeaks: What It Means For Healthcare Privacy”

  1. Greg Judd says:

    “….even the government’s most sensitive and classified diplomatic data is subject to disclosure somehow, some way.”

    the WikiLeaks stuff was not classified top secret, or even secret, as far as I can determine. So the stuff available via internet to us regular joes is not the “most sensitive and classified”.

    “…in our new era of the electronic medical record and government funding of healthcare in America, we now find that this potential loss of our healthcare privacy is the price (and risk) for care we’ll have to accept.”

    Dr. Wes, I can hear your hands wringing from here. Please quantify this risk you speak of. Point to credible evidence of damage, however substantial, from the kinds of disclosures you are imagining. There’s a lot of evidence of LOSS of data, of course – that is not the same as evidence of the damage caused by loss of same data.

    For bonus points, demonstrate that whatever instance of damage you DO find could/would not also have happened via some other means of misappropriation (dumpster diving, etc).

    Tip: it will take you longer – probably far longer – to round up this evidence than it took you to share your anxieties with us here.

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