December 20, 2000

Online Health Seekers Would Like the Right to Sue if their Privacy is Violated

81% say they think they should be able to sue

WASHINGTON–A survey of those who seek medical and health information online reveals that 81% would like to have the right to sue a medical company that gave away or sold information in violation of its privacy promises. The study was conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The new health privacy regulations being issued today by President Clinton provide civil and criminal penalties for providers and health firms that violate the regulations, but do not give patients a right to sue providers or health plans for improper disclosure of health information.

“Several of our surveys suggest that health information is the most sensitive information to most Americans and they want as much control over it as they can get,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Patients will applaud many of the new privacy protections that are provided in the Clinton Administration. But they also want to be able to hold companies and providers directly accountable for breaches of their medical information.”

The Pew Internet Project findings come from a survey of 521 Internet users who have gotten health information online. The survey was conducted between August 3-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

These are some other findings from the ongoing survey work of the Pew Internet Project that relate to today”s announcement:

  • 60% of those who seek health and medical information online say they don”t want to have their health records posted online because they worry about other people seeing their health records.
  • 87% of these Internet users say there should be rules about how online health companies track information about visitors to their sites.In another survey of 1,101 Internet users during August:
  • 86% say they are concerned a web site might sell or give away information about what they did at health sites.
  • 82% say they are concerned an insurance company might raise their rates or deny them coverage based on where they surfed on health sites.
  • 51% worry that their employer might find out what health sites they have visited.