MMA considers its position on major medical subjects

Privacy of shared patient data raises concerns

By Jeff Hansel

Delegates of the Minnesota Medical Association are scheduled to vote today on a variety of top medical issues.

One of the longest-debated issues Thursday was whether the MMA should ask the state Legislature to stop the Minnesota Department of Health from collecting information from every patient encounter.


Others resolutions discussed include the dangers of mercury-containing foods such as fish, the epidemic of obesity, health coverage for the uninsured, and mandated insurance coverage for clinical trials.

During the debate on health department data collection, Dr. Lee Beecher, a St. Louis Park psychiatrist, said he is concerned that breeches of patient privacy will occur.

"There's going to be hackers and there's going to be people that are going to break the code," he said after the debate.

But Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist, said 48 states collect data similar to what Minnesota wants to record.

The original proposal was withdrawn. If it goes forward, Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach expects to consider concerns beforehand, Hull said.

Oversight panel

Dr. Sally Trippel, a Mayo Clinic physician in Preventive and Internal Medicine, said she wants the data collected. But she'd like oversight in the form of an institutional review board appointed by people other than politicians. Internal review boards painstakingly review clinical trials before they are approved or denied. Hull said he would support such oversight.

"We're absolutely open to the idea," he said. The health department already has an review board but previously had suggested using an oversight panel instead.


Hull said he also would be open to having non-politicians appoint the panel because the health department reviews scientific data rather than things that should be politicized.

He also favored removing all identifying information from the data before the department receives it "so the Department of Health would never have that data, would never have those names."

Other issues

Controversial topics discussed Thursday included a proposal to encourage physicians and other health providers to provide more education about emergency contraception.

"We should not be required to do anything that violates our own sense of conscience," said Dr. Terence Cahill of Blue Earth, Minn. But, he said, doctors who treat patients who need information, such as sexual assault victims, should feel comfortable offering it.

Dr. Mike Ruegsegger of Rosedale, Minn., president of Minnesota Physicians for Life, said, "I believe it could cause the destruction of a human life after the egg has been fertilized." Delegates told him emergency contraception takes effect before the legal definition of the start of life -- implantation of the fertilized egg.

Delegates also considered whether to encourage more Minnesotans to find a family physician for routine care.

"There should be someone out there that's looking at you in total, not just in pieces," said Dr. Carol Featherstone, a family physician from Minneapolis.

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