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NY Times: Privacy Issue Complicates Push to Link Medical Data

Posted Jan 22 2009 4:43pm

The US is beginning to wrestle with the 'Elephant in the Room' - Privacy. The announcement last week of $20 Billion in funding to support Healthcare IT has triggered the debate on the importance of privacy and the need to protect medical information. This is a complex issue.

Source: NY Times. By ROBERT PEAR Published: January 17, 2009 WASHINGTON

President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to link up doctors and hospitals with new information technology, as part of an ambitious job-creation program, is imperiled by a bitter, seemingly intractable dispute over how to protect the privacy of electronic medical records.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff-designate, said it was “essential” to protect personal health information. Lawmakers, caught in a crossfire of lobbying by the health care industry and consumer groups, have been unable to agree on privacy safeguards that would allow patients to control the use of their medical records. Congressional leaders plan to provide $20 billion for such technology in an economic stimulus bill whose cost could top $825 billion. In a speech outlining his economic recovery plan, Mr. Obama said, “We will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years all of America’s medical records are computerized.” Digital medical records could prevent medical errors, save lives and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, Mr. Obama has said.

“Health information technology will succeed only if privacy is protected,” said Frank C. Torres, director of consumer affairs at Microsoft. “For the president-elect to achieve his vision, he has to protect privacy.”

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