Medical Privacy and Safety - A Dangerous Conflict?

I have been reading the articles online about the VA Tech hearings. The young man who shot and killed so many people at VA Tech had shown years of warning signs that he would "go off." But, it seems that many of the privacy laws in place to protect actually ended up enabling this man's violent tendencies and other problems to go unchecked for years.

The fact that he had taken special education classes and assisted exams, which enabled him to obtain very high grades in high school was not mentioned on his transcript (a fact the Washington Post says was due to privacy laws). As a result, his high grades were a signal to VA Tech that he could handle the high-pressure environment of the university unassisted. When in college, his parents were unaware that he had been hosptialized for mental illness issues (due to the medical privacy laws), and they were unable to help him by removing him from school, or reaching out to him in response.

All of this makes me mad. . .  the privacy laws seem to have removed what once governed our society -- common sense. If schools have the information they need, they can better support students. If family members are not kept out of the loop, due to senseless medical privacy restrictions, and if we, as employers have access to the information which affects andemployee's ability to function in the workplace, we would all be better off.




  • 3 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • hr410,

    I definitely agree with you that what happened at VA Tech this past year is a senseless tragedy that could have been prevented. 

    However, I think you are blaming this tragedy on certain issues that aren't necessarily responsible for what occurred.

    For example, you wrote that this student took special education classes in high school which allowed him the opportunity to earn good grades and compete with other students for a place in college.  He was able to do this, regardless of his disability (whether it be physical or emotional).  When looked at independent of what happened last spring, I don't think that a system like this, that benefits so many students, is necessarily a bad or unfair one. 

    In addition, everyone has the right to medical privacy.  It is a privilege that we enjoy as citizens here in the U.S., just like free speech, and thus we must take the good with the bad, and this student had a right to his privacy just like everyone else. 

    This does not excuse his actions nor make up for the fact that many other warning signs were missed or overlooked by classmates, professors etc., but you can't rewrite an entire system that benefits millions of people who may be sick in one way or another due to the the senseless actions of one person.

    Likewise, I don't think an employer should have access to an employee's medical files.  It is another privilege that we enjoy here in the US, that we've fought hard for and it would be a slippery slope if we started giving our rights like these away to those who govern us.

  • This is a related but different issue I have been campaigning to have rectified. It is actually the reverse problem -- insurers send statements for tests/care provided for ALL insured to the primary subscriber. This routinely violates the privacy rights of spouses and other adults covered under the same insurance policy. Employers providing spouse or family coverage should insist that claims statements be sent in the name of the adult for whom care was provided, not the primary insured. It is no one else's business what was done or when -- even if they can't see the test results. Insurers and medical providers both insist this can't be resolved but it is actually quite simple given that all the data is part of the medical record AND the insurance application. I worked in healthcare for over 20 years, part of it in insurance claims. My spouse works for one of the Blues and they have been totally unresponsive. It is time to eliminate this loop hole in medical privacy. Think about it.
  • It will probably take some sort of litagation before this practice is changed.  I hope that the plans providing this info to the primary subscriber  have a signed authorization on file allowing them to provide info to someone other than the patient.  HIPPA can be pretty expensive.

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