Many Americans Still Fret Over Health Data Privacy

April 10, 2007 ( - About 38 million Americans hold back medical information from their health providers over worries about how the personal data might be disclosed, according to a new survey.

A news release about a nationwide Harris Interactive poll said 17% of respondents had serious enough reservations about the security of their health information to keep some items secret from their medical professionals.

The poll of 2,337 U.S. adults that surveyed online between January 11 and 18, 2006 by Harris Interactive was designed in collaboration with Alan F. Westin, Professor of Public Law and Government Emeritus at Columbia University.

Half of adults (50%) believe that patients have lost control over how their medical records are used by organizations such as life insurers, employers and government health agencies. Three in 10 (31%) disagree and are not as concerned, while the remaining 19% are not sure, according to the results.

There is also a strong correlation between health conditions and privacy concerns. Among adults who indicate that their health is either only fair or poor, significantly more have concerns about the confidentiality and security about their health information.

For example, 73% of those who report that their health is pretty good or excellent are generally satisfied with the way doctors and hospitals use personal health information. However, a smaller 60% of those who report their health is only fair or poor say they are satisfied with how their personal health information is used.

On whether U.S. adults have withheld information about their personal life or health conditions from doctors and hospitals because they were concerned about how the information might be disclosed, more than three-quarters (77%) of adults say that they have not withheld information.

According to the announcement, the poll found:

  • 70% U.S. adults agree they are generally satisfiedwith the way doctors and hospitals handle personal health information in terms of protecting its confidentiality and security. One in five (20%) strongly agree with this, 50% somewhat agree and another 19% disagree. The remaining 11% are not sure;
  • By a 63% to 25% margin, a majority agreed that increased use of computers to record and share patient medical records can be accomplished without jeopardizing proper patient privacy rights. Just under a quarter (23%) strongly agrees with this;
  • A majority (60% to 27%) feels that existing federal and state health privacy protection laws provide a reasonable level of privacy for their health information;
  • A similar 63% to 27% of U.S. adults also agree that they wouldconsent to have their medical records used for medical research as long as there were guarantees that no personally-identifying information would be released.