Privacy or Neglect?

May 17th, 2014 by MorganDowney Leave a reply »

An article by Sheri Fink in the New York Times on May 16, 2014 will raise many questions. The article describes a program of data-mining of Medicare records for use in emergencies, such as hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy. Under the program, vulnerable people are identified who may need help in evacuations or need to help to get to shelters. However, the data are also used to identify those who take frequent ambulance trips or alert primary care physicians when their patients are admitted to hospitals. In emergencies, ‘authorized individuals’ are allowed to access medical records even though they have not been given permission. In an effort to protect privacy, federal officials have decided not to identify “stigmatized groups” including those with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and those with obesity. The system is being tested by looking at those on ventilators or using other medical devices who may lose power and have batteries run out of power.

But the issue of not including persons with obesity and those with mental and intellectual disabilities is a challenging one. Are they being left without this safety net? Obviously, not every person with obesity would need this level of attention but those with morbid obesity, in wheelchairs, on insulin surely would. Ask the obesity specialists at Pennington about trying to get insulin to patients after Hurricane Katrina if you want a picture of what a natural disaster can mean. So, is this protection of privacy or leaving the most vulnerable to fare for themselves while others are saved? The debate has only begun.


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