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CNN Today

President Clinton Issues Medical Privacy Guidelines

Aired December 20, 2000 - 4:52 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: In an effort to protect your privacy and to keep your medical records from being picked over by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies, President Clinton today issued sweeping medical privacy guidelines: new rules that would take effect in two years to sharply limit access to confidential information.

Patients must explicitly authorize most uses of their records. Patients gain the right to inspect and correct their records. Employers will be barred from perusing workers' medical files unless, of course, it is related to providing health care. Violators face civil and criminal fines, and even prison time is a possibility.

As CNN's Frank Buckley tells us, currently, medical information may be used for both medical and nonmedical purposes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That medical record generated at your last doctor's visit receives less federal protection, say privacy advocates, than records generated during your last visit to the bank or to the video store. But the new rules announced by President Clinton provide, for the first time, comprehensive federal standards to protect medical privacy.

LORI GOLDMAN, GEORGETOWN RESEARCH PROJECT: Until today, we had no federal privacy law protecting peoples' medical records, and people have suffered as a consequence.

BUCKLEY: Privacy advocates point out that while patient medical records can provide lifesaving information to physicians, they can also put life-altering information in the hands of others, like employers, who sometimes use it in hiring decisions. Personal medical data also ends up in the hands of direct-mail and pharmaceutical companies and other businesses that obtain the information based on a patient's signed consent form.

DR. LEON HOFFMAN, AMERICAN PSYCHOANALYTIC ASSOCIATION: People forget that once they sign on the dotted line for release of information, so many of these -- so many of these consent forms are such broad, blanket consents that people do not realize what they are signing away.

BUCKLEY: And computers and the Internet can provide instant and global distribution of medical data. Physician James Underberg stores his patients' medical records on computer, but doesn't provide an Internet connection to them to prevent unauthorized access.

JAMES UNDERBERG, INTERNIST: If I were a patient, I would be concerned if people other than my physician outside of my physician's office had access to that data.

BUCKLEY: But health insurance advocates warn that too much regulation could hurt clinical research and increase costs.

RICHARD SMITH, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH PLANS: We have actually advocated having a single national standard for this type of information transfer rather than having a patchwork of state laws with a 900-page set of federal rules grafted on top of it.

BUCKLEY (on camera): Still, health privacy advocates believe the rules represent a victory for patients, who provide doctors with the most intimate details of their lives.

Frank Buckley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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