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November 2, 1984

Epidemiologists strive to maintain confidentiality of some health data

JAMA. 1984;252(17):2377-2383. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350170001001

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Officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta are battling what they see as a major threat to their ability to adequately protect the public health.

The agency currently is facing considerable difficulty in keeping confidential much of the sensitive information—including information about patients' sexual practices and information found in medical records—reported to its staff by other physicians in the course of the CDC's investigation of disease outbreaks.

The problem the agency faces is not new. It extends back at least a decade. But in recent months, the issue of confidentiality of data reported to the CDC has grown into a major concern.

Under the Federal Freedom of Information Act, the agency has been forced to provide material gathered in studies of disease outbreaks to attorneys who ultimately used the information in court action. In two instances, lawyers attempted to make the agency provide the names of physicians