Medical Records and Privacy

Medical Records and Privacy of the Famous Privacy seems to be something that many people desire, but is becoming less and less available. With all the new technology, it is easier than ever to invade someone’s privacy. With cameras everywhere, from ATM’s to people’s cell phones, it is difficult for anyone to do anything that can be kept to one ’s self. While privacy is a right that the average person doesn’t normally struggle with, it is a problem that celebrities encounter everyday.

Paparazzi are constantly following these famous people around as they do their everyday things like shopping, playing with their children, partying, or simply hanging in their homes. It is basically the price to pay to be famous. While these celebrities’ lives are invaded to a large degree, shouldn’t they still enjoy the right to keep some aspects of their lives private? Celebrities should have the right to keep things like medical records private, because not only is it a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), it is unethical to release medical information about someone to the public, even celebrities.

In recent years, there have been a number of break-ins of celebrity medical records that have been leaked to the tabloids. In 2006 one of the country’s leading medical institutions discovered that the security of their medical records had been breached when The National Enquirer printed a story about Farrah Faucet’s cancer relapse, before the actress even told any of her family members” (Steinhaurer, 2008). Ms. Faucet is not the only celebrity who has had this happen.

In 2007, George Clooney was informed that his medical records were accessed by people who didn’t have the right to look at them, following a motorcycle crash that left the actor with broken ribs and scrapes. Britney Spears was also a victim when the media reported that she was involuntarily hospitalized in 2008 and put in the psych ward under the thought she could be a danger to others or herself. Gossip outlets and other news media reported on her interactions with staff and visitors throughout her hospitalization (Techweb, 2008).

These are incidents that have occurred for many years, as tabloids are always interested in the medical issues celebrities deal with, and keeping it under wraps is more difficult with technology making it easier for anyone to gain instant access to health secrets. “With the advent of networked computers, the problem has increased exponentially, and celebrities are constantly surrounded by people who are willing to trade in medical information for profit or their own 15 minutes” (Blankstein, 2008).

While the people who accessed the records of these celebrities and leaked the stories are definitely at fault, I think that much of the blame also lies with the reporters and journalists who actually print and air the stories. The press is violating privacy by releasing these stories in two ways, legally and ethically. “Medical privacy rules apply to everybody, including celebrities,” Alicia Mitchell, spokesperson for the American Hospital Association said. “Everybody is entitled to confidentiality of what is often very personal information” (Rhea, 2007). By printing the very private medical information, there was a violation of HIPPA.

HIPPA is an act that went into effect in 1996 and it set a national standard for securing and protecting patient health information. Hospitals have strict policies against leaking information, with the exceptions of insurance and law enforcement investigations. Because of this law, many health care providers won’t even admit to treating some patients (Techweb, 2008). While the people who leaked the stories to the press have been reprimanded by either suspension or termination, there wasn’t any type of consequences for the press for reporting this illegal material.

That brings me to the ethical violation. “Depriving people of their privacy is a cruel and immoral act, which could destroy their lives. The sole objective of tabloids is to make money, so they’ll go to any extreme to satisfy their readers and increase circulation figures” (Heng, 2006). It is obvious that celebrity news is an outlet that sells, as seen by the numerous tabloids and entertainment shows. The public has an interest in what is going on in the lives of these rich and glamorous people.

This brings on a form of mediated voyeurism, which can be defined as, “the consumption of revealing images and information about others’ real and unguarded lives, not always for the purpose of entertainment but frequently at the expense of privacy and discourse, through the means of the mass media” (Calvert, 2000). Basically saying that the public has a need to see these famous people and learn about their lives, even at the risk of invading their privacy. The tabloids simply exploit the public’s desire to learn these things, regardless of the ethical issues of invading a human being’s privacy.

They know people will buy it and that they will make money. I think that to be an ethical journalist it is important to empathize with the person whose life is about to be splashed on the papers. Of course there is the matter of getting the story and pleasing the readers and the editor, but it should take into account the public’s real right to know. A story about the health of someone like the President of the United States might be something worth printing, because knowing how he is medically is of public interest because this is a man that is running the country.

However, that is a different scenario with someone like Britney Spears. She is simply an entertainer and it isn’t important for the public to know her health because it will not affect the daily lives of people. It is simply news that the public likes to learn about. If I were a journalist, I would like to think to myself how I would feel if someone had released my medical records for the public to read. I would feel very violated. As Lance Morrow states, “Good journalistic standards are not difficult to state, just tough sometimes when applied case by case.

Journalists function best when they are mature, experienced, and intelligent; when they keep their work as clear and simple as possible; when they fall back upon decency and common sense if questions arise about whether to run a piece” (Morrow, 2002). If these people were true journalists, they would think ethically about whether or not to release this type of information, and whether or not it is simply the decent thing to do. I would think that it would be an easy answer because, just because someone is famous, doesn’t mean that all of their privacy rights should be violated.