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Abstract

The privacy interest recognized in medical records is in its infancy, as legal protections of personal information are relatively new. Major changes in medical technology, the introduction of third-party payment, government participation in medical care, and computerization of record-keeping have expanded the amount, type and accessibility of health data available about a patient. Concurrently, health records are now requested for a number of purposes, such as, legal actions, law enforcement, public health evaluation, employment, credit-rating, etc. Only limited access to these records should be permitted in order to protect the patient, yet public policy concerns also call for the disclosure of such records. An individual may have legal recourse against invasions of this privacy interest, depending upon who is the party seeking or having obtained access to the records, the purposes for which the record is sought, and whether there are common law, statutory or constitutional protections available. Within the increase in computerized information, invasions of privacy are likely to rise. Courts must continue to balance the competing interests of privacy and public need, in order to stay abreast of this issue. By using special tactics such as retracting identifiable information and only requiring disclosure of absolutely necessary information, the courts can carefully balance the competing interests regarding private medical records.

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