Can the records of a few sessions with a college counselor
today come back to haunt you years from now, like when you've just
been nominated partner in a law firm?
You're madly in love with your boyfriend, but your birth
control suddenly failed, so you drop in for a pregnancy test at the
health service. The good news - it's negative - is scrawled into
your medical record.
Will there be a co-payment charge for the test on your term
bill, which goes to your parents? Could the record of your love
troubles someday wind up in the wrong hands, like when you've
decided to go for the big job?
Privacy advocates say college students may have even more to
fear than the rest of us from the growing centralization and
computerization of medical records, and from new laws that could
undermine confidentiality for decades to come.
For one thing, students have more years of life ahead in which
troubling tidbits can lurk in cyberspace for employers or insurers
to find. For another, they're still learning their way around the
medical system and experimenting with relationships that can
trigger medical visits.
Some colleges, such as Harvard and Wellesley, have written
confidentiality policies that explicitly put a priority on privacy
- with a few exceptions.
At Wellesley, "no records are released without a student's
consent unless it's a life or death matter or unless it's required
for insurance or the chart were subpoenaed," said Dr. Charlotte
Sanner, director of the health services.
And on-campus counseling records are "kept separate and locked
up," said Robin Cook-Nobles, director of the Wellesley counseling
Other schools, including Smith College and the University of
Massachusetts, are so concerned about privacy, they offer anonymous
- not just confidential - AIDS testing, which means test results
don't even go in your record. Harvard and Tufts are considering
adopting similar policies.
Some argue that colleges are more sensitized to confidentiality
issues than institutions in the outside world because they've spent
years walking the tightrope between the rights of students, who are
legally adults at age 18, and the concerns of parents, who worry
about their not-quite-independent offspring - and still pay the
Just a few weeks ago, Congress passed the Kennedy-Kassebaum
bill which ensures portability of benefits from job to job but
mandates "administrative simplification."
This sets in motion a process that could give every patient a
unique "identifier" like a Social Security number and create a
national computer network to allow health care companies to pass
records among themselves. …