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July 24, 1996

Increasing Use of Computerized Recordkeeping Leads to Legislative Proposals for Medical Privacy

JAMA. 1996;276(4):270-272. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540040014007

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THE PRIVACY OF patients' medical records is increasingly a matter of public concern. Replacing personal data on paper with computerized recordkeeping poses an undeniable threat to the traditional confidentiality of physicians' and hospitals' information systems.

At least 2 legislative proposals that are being considered or about to be considered by the US Congress deal directly with attempts to ensure privacy of identifiable health information. Another 4 bills would prohibit discrimination on genetic grounds in health insurance and employment.

Regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of these legislative proposals, they reflect rising public worry that people's medical records may surface in the hands of someone other than their physician and to their disadvantage. In recent months, popular magazine articles have relayed stories of insurance companies denying coverage on the grounds that review of a patient's medical record shows a potential health problem.

That some of these coverage denials exhibit a certain