Health Care Database Guards Patient Privacy

Article excerpt

James Kelly suggests sinister consequences and grave violations of confidentiality concerning personal medical information because the Health Care Access and Cost Commission (HCACC) is collecting data from insurance companies and HMOs ("Marylanders losing medical care privacy," Aug. 1). Dr. Kelly's gloomy predictions are based upon misinformation - not the facts.

The truth is, HCACC is not collecting patients' records. Unlike the data held by providers and payers, the HCACC database will not have the patient's name, address, race, date of birth or Social Security number. The database does not and will not contain any information identifying specific patients. Therefore, if anyone wanted to obtain medical information about an individual, as Dr. Kelly suggests could occur, the state's medical care database would not be the place to look.

Indeed, current law prohibits the commission from collecting information that would disclose the patient's identity. In addition, there is no dial-in access to the data. The database stands alone.

The federal government has collected information on Medicare beneficiaries for years. Maryland, like many other states, has collected hospital data without compromising patient privacy. This type of data is used widely by physicians, economists, researchers and policy-makers to address public health and health financing issues.

The commission is gathering medical data so, at a minimum, consumers and employers will understand where their health care dollars are going and whether these dollars are being spent most efficiently. Just as important, the database will allow for comparisons of health care utilization and access to services among different insured populations and regions in the state and help decision-makers develop solutions to health policy issues.

For example, we might find the answer to why people in the Baltimore area spend on average 24 percent more per year on health care than Maryland residents in the D.C. suburbs. We could compare utilization patterns for particular illnesses for patients in HMOs vs. …