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Key conditions must be met to balance privacy, shared information

Re “As records go online, clash over mental care privacy ” (Page A1, June 21): It will be a great day when medical practitioners and average citizens consider Parkinson’s disease and bipolar illness just two of the many medical conditions that exist. But we are far from that day. Stigma is pervasive in our attitudes about mental illness; it shows up in employment and housing discrimination, treatment access, and insurance disparities.

AT THE SAME TIME, it is possible to balance the privacy of mental health information and the goal of health care integration.

First, disclosure of information should be based upon genuine informed consent by the patient, and UPON detailed EXPLANATION by the medical practitioner of how the information will be shared.

Second, health care entities must have rigorous and transparent policies around information sharing. Patient privacy must remain the standard for electronic records, even as information is made accessible to a wider audience.

Third, patients must trust their health care practitioner in order to receive and comply with treatment. When patients share their experiences and emotions, they convey essential information that guides treatment. Many patients, however, are not prepared to share information through electronic systems that have proved deeply flawed in other industry sectors. Health care systems must acknowledge legitimate concerns and ensure rigorous quality control of medical record access and ethics.


Codifying these principles would go a long way toward making sure integration does not become a barrier to patients needing mental health treatment.

Marylou Sudders
President and CEO
Massachusetts Society
for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Children

The writer is the former Massachusetts commissioner of mental health.