“By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights, but also the lives and work of the individuals. We condemn in strongest terms, the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.” – official White House statement yesterday regarding Wikileaks disclosure of diplomatic cables
No matter what people think of Wikileaks’ release of approximately 250,000 classified diplomatic cables to the Internet yesterday, the implications to electronic healthcare information security are significant.
Day in and day out, I type huge volumes of information about my patients on a computer and my fellow physicians do the same. As a result, vast healthcare information warehouses are at the disposal of the government, insurers and major health care institutions eager to become more efficient, strategic or competitive. We are promised the information is private, confidential and even stripped of its identifiers for group analysis. It is even protected to remain so by law.
And now we find that even the government’s most sensitive and classified diplomatic data is subject to disclosure, some how, some way.
Worse, once the leak occurs, the government is powerless to correct the breech.
While a single individual’s private health care information may not carry the gravitas of wartime communiqués, each of us deals with famous patients who might not want their diagnosis, HIV status or drinking history spread far and wide. For them, this private information might be just as personally damaging as anything disclosed by WikiLeaks.
Yet in our new era of the electronic medical record and government funding of healthcare in America, we now find that this potential loss of our health care privacy is the price (and risk) for care we’ll have to accept.
Westby G. Fisher, MD, FACC is a board certified internist, cardiologist, and cardiac electrophysiologist practicing at NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, IL and is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. He writes regularly at DrWes.blogspot.com.