Modern Healthcare reports on health care privacy issues looming in the future. While the popular press makes much out of lost notebook computers and nefarious computer hackers, the real threat to the privacy of health care information is much more serious.

...according to the authors, "little or no attention has been
given to mechanisms to prevent the disclosure of sensitive health
information with no current clinical usefulness when third parties
compel individuals to disclose their health information."

Each year, millions of applicants for jobs, insurance and even
federal programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance "sign
authorizations for vast amounts of personal health information
maintained in files at physicians' offices, hospitals and other
healthcare settings," including information about mental health
treatment, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV status, history of
abortions, domestic violence and drug or alcohol abuse, the authors

"The disclosure of such sensitive health information to
entities without a treatment relationship, without a need to know, and
for nonmedical purposes, may lead to embarrassment and stigma," they
said. It may also lead to job loss, the denial of health insurance
coverage for a specific condition or refusal by a health plan to cover
the individual at all.

While payors already know everything about health care that they pay for, items like genetic testing that are not submitted by the patient or provider are poorly protected. Much of this is the result of lackluster enforcement of HIPAA. As technology advances, the press will may have stories to tell that are far more disturbing than hackers.