David Earl Johnson, LICSW

2 minute read

The Bush Administration proposed a computer-based method for storing and easily making available healthcare records. While this technology can be critically important, even life saving for some medical concerns, it presents a unique risk to mental health service consumers. Societal stigma is alive and well. Employers, insurance companies, and even law enforcement maybe placed in a position to discriminate based on available records. Special protections must be in place to prevent untrained people from accessing your records. [PRIVACY CONCERNS ON MENTAL HEALTH RECORDS][1]

“We believe that a National Health Information Network (NHIN) has the potential to improve the quality of health care provided in this country, allowing instant access to critical health information at any point of care,” said Newman. “At the same time, however, we are extremely concerned about issues of privacy and confidentiality, particularly with mental health records, raised by this proposed increase in accessibility of health information.” According to Newman, in order to develop the NHIN in a manner which will promote quality healthcare, it is critical to consider the unique privacy issues relating to mental health records. “Most people understand that mental health records are particularly sensitive because they may contain a patient’s innermost personal information. Many also are aware that, unfortunately, the stigma attached to mental illness and mental health treatment makes the records of that treatment especially sensitive. Any breach of privacy could be devastating to the patient. Unlike most other areas of health care, the mere possibility that confidential information might be disclosed prevents successful treatment from occurring by interfering with the development of the necessary trusting psychotherapy relationship and open communication with the therapist.”

Additionally, Newman raised concerns about access to mental health records by others in the healthcare system not trained or experienced with mental health issues, health insurers and law enforcement officials. Newman also discussed what choice patients would have in deciding whether to have their records included in NHIN. “If patients consent to electronic records, it would be necessary to inform them of all potential uses of their records and by whom. While most patients may want their records available to health care professionals who are treating them, they might feel quite different about giving such access to insurance companies.”

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