UNLIKE PHYSICIANS, many of the great and increasing number of people who now have access to medical records have taken no oath to protect either the privacy or the well-being of patients. Reports of egregious misuse of patient information—and concern over the potential for even greater abuse made possible by the nation's move toward computerized records—has led Congress to consider legislation to protect the confidentiality of patient records.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 required US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Donna Shalala, PhD, to submit detailed recommendations for protecting the confidentiality of patient information. On September 11, 1997, Shalala submitted her recommendations. Congress now has until August 21, 1999, to pass the required legislation, and if it fails to do so, the DHHS secretary will be authorized to promulgate protective federal regulations.