Personally identifiable health information about individuals and general
medical information is increasingly available in electronic form in health
databases and through online networks. The proliferation of electronic data
within the modern health information infrastructure presents significant benefits
for medical providers and patients, including enhanced patient autonomy, improved
clinical treatment, advances in health research and public health surveillance,
and modern security techniques. However, it also presents new legal challenges
in 3 interconnected areas: privacy of identifiable health information, reliability
and quality of health data, and tort-based liability. Protecting health information
privacy (by giving individuals control over health data without severely restricting
warranted communal uses) directly improves the quality and reliability of
health data (by encouraging individual uses of health services and communal
uses of data), which diminishes tort-based liabilities (by reducing instances
of medical malpractice or privacy invasions through improvements in the delivery
of health care services resulting in part from better quality and reliability
of clinical and research data). Following an analysis of the interconnectivity
of these 3 areas and discussing existing and proposed health information privacy
laws, recommendations for legal reform concerning health information privacy
are presented. These include (1) recognizing identifiable health information
as highly sensitive, (2) providing privacy safeguards based on fair information
practices, (3) empowering patients with information and rights to consent
to disclosure (4) limiting disclosures of health data absent consent, (5)
incorporating industry-wide security protections, (6) establishing a national
data protection authority, and (7) providing a national minimal level of privacy
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