Federal and state regulations concerning the privacy of health care data

by Willis H. Ware

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State regulations or laws are frequently silent on rights of access or legal status of records, and questions of ownership of records are almost never examined. There is much health care information available for public inspection with essentially no access control. At the federal level, health records are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In the case of the National Center for Health Statistics, the law prescribes permissible uses of the data collected, prohibits other use, specifies how it shall be published and establishes immunity from judicial seizure. The Privacy Act of 1974 has only been in operation a year. It formed the Privacy Protection Study Commission to look into privacy problems of the recordkeeping practices of nonfederal public and private institutions. It is clear that hospitals will have to establish better controls over access to records than they have at present.

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