As with most everyone else, I am watching the presidential race with something akin to amusement and horror alike. And as with many people, I feel that the U.S., as a nation, failed to find a suitable candidate for this presidential election. While there does need to be some test for fitness for office, I remain aghast at the medical speculations and facts being leaked about the presidential candidates. Reading this article in the Washington Times, I am troubled about the lack of privacy allowed to these individuals’ health. And this is all merely speculation as no medical records are provided, as they should Never be. This is truly a breach in HIPAA laws by the media, the politicians and public alike.
Yes, we need assurance that anyone elected to the oval office is healthy enough to serve the term. But, that is all we are entitled to know. According to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) passed by Congress in 1996, there is a national standard to protecting individuals’ medical records and health information. Safeguards were set in place to ensure health information remains private and protected. It applies to all patients receiving medical care in our nation. There are no exceptions for holding a certain job title or position.
As a family doctor, I often fill out forms and write letters for fitness for work. Never once did I include a diagnosis or symptoms unless a patient requested it and signed a form authorizing me to release these confidential records. Under the law, we are not allowed to. If someone called and asked about a patient’s medical information, they would be told that we cannot release this information. This information is protected, and only a patient can decide who they wish to see it.
And we need this privacy. Patients need to come tell their doctors many embarrassing details. Imagine if they believed anyone could learn this information. Would someone concerned about a sexually transmitted disease feel free to tell their doctor everything without this guarantee of privacy? No, they would not and this may put others at risk of contracting the disease because the patient doesn’t want to see the doctor because they don’t want anyone to know.
The details we are seeing in the media about the health of both candidates is merely speculation. There are doctors analyzing the media reports to try to diagnose the candidates. But, real doctors know you cannot diagnose a patient through a journalist’s reports on a TV screen or a new story. Is that really the standard you want to set? Do you want to fuel the fire by speculating on the speculations? Do we want patients to think they are fair game for this speculation? No, this needs to stop. Patients need to know they can trust their doctor with anything and give them the best medical information.
While the politicians fling the mud and the media builds mud houses, isn’t the U.S. better than this? Are we really saying that patients with certain diseases should not work certain jobs? Is that message American people should be hearing?
As for me, many of my patients taught me that people can achieve amazing successes despite great suffering and adversity. Isn’t that the goal we should be striving for rather than casting stones at someone’s infirmities?
Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.