Medical Privacy:
Cases from the PRC Log Files

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September 1, 1995

Employee and medical records wrongfully merged

Annette had been badly injured at work several years ago. She has undergone a number of operations, and now one leg is one inch shorter than the other. She was recently terminated because of her disability and hired an attorney to take action against the company. Annette's attorney ordered a copy of her personnel file and found that her medical records were included in them, a violation of California law. 05-423-95

Harmed by inaccurate information in MIB file

Harold is an attorney and may want to run for judge someday. Ten years ago he was told by his doctor to watch his weight and reduce his consumption of alcohol, which he did. But the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) file had him coded as a drug abuser (the database shared by 750 insurance companies, containing medical information on about 1 in 10 adults). Harold wanted to clear this from his record and asked his doctor to write a letter to the insurance company which had placed the negative information in his MIB file. Before the insurance company would authorize the change, it requested that he be tested for drugs by providing a urinalysis. The insurance company also requested a hair sample from him. That's where he drew the line and refused to cooperate with them. 04-12-95

Playing hardball with his medical records

Skip is retired from a large railroad company after 25 years of employment with them. He agreed to appear as an expert witness on the subject of railroad switches, which is his area of specialty. The lawsuit involved someone run over and killed by a train when a switch failed. When he was called upon to testify, the attorney for the defendant asked him nothing about switches, but instead questioned him about his mental health. Years earlier, he had been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward and had been open in sharing that with his employer. It turns out the employer had released this very sensitive information to the defendant's attorney, who used it to intimidate and discredit him. Afterwards, Skip called his former employer and asked to see his employment file. He was told it had could not be found. 03-276-95

Fear of employer knowing too much

Linda's employer is self-insured and, as such, she is concerned about the extent to which they can obtain her medical records. Her employer also happens to be an insurance company. Linda is afraid to seek compensation for treatment for her condition, which is a fairly unique malady, because information about her health would get into her employer's hands and she would be terminated, even though her condition does not affect her work performance. Others have been let go for similar reasons. Linda has decided to pay for her treatment out of her own pocket rather than allow her employer to learn about her condition. 02-342-95

A clinic that tells the world

Patricia donated plasma at a private clinic. When she first donated, she was told that none of the information she provided to them would be released to anyone. Recently, she returned to the clinic to donate plasma again. She happened to glance at the bulletin board in the donation center and noticed that a list of donors was posted, a list which included her name. 01-72-95

A chain of confidentiality abuses

Antonio, a gay male, works for a California company in Mexico City. He saw the company doctor and requested an HIV test. Antonio found out that the doctor had told someone in the human resources department who in turn told his supervisor of the test request. He's consulting an attorney. 01-68-95

Another careless records handler

Christy rents an oxygen machine from a home health medical equipment provider. She recently ordered a printout of her usage for the past year. When she received it, she saw that she had been given the usage histories of 3 other persons, complete with their SSNs. She was horrified that the company would be so careless as to let such sensitive information be mailed to her. 07-937-95


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