National Medical Database: Good Rx for Privacy?

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Would you mind having your entire medical history sitting on a national computer database? That's what the Clinton administration is asking Monday, as public hearings get under way on the so-called "unique health identifier." The proposal: To take the doctor's notes and hospital files on everyone in the country, centralize them, and assign us all tracking numbers. Pros: When you move, you won't have to go through the hassle of transferring your records; plus scientists will be able to follow the spread of contagious diseases much more effectively. Cons: Some 14-year-old hacker might find out about that embarassing gland condition.

Given that the idea is likely to rankle those on the right, it's surprising to find it was effectively ordered by the GOP -- as part of a health insurance law passed by Congress in 1996. Now they can rest easy as the White House goes through the messy and contentious process of actually trying to implement it. As for the tracking number, there are two proposals: a) Create a new code for everyone based on your date and location of birth and hire hundreds of bureaucrats to dish them out; and b) use your Social Security number. No prizes for guessing which one the feds are in favor of.