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June 2013 Information from news accident reports uniquely and exactly matched medical records in publicly available Washington State health data in 43% of the cases, thereby putting names to patient records.

Patient-level health data from the State of Washington can be purchased for $50. This publicly available dataset has virtually all hospitalizations occurring in the State in a given year, including patient demographics, diagnoses, procedures, attending physician, hospital, a summary of charges, and how the bill was paid. It does not contain patient names or addresses (only ZIPs). Newspaper stories that contained the word "hospitalized" and printed in the State of Washington were surveyed for the same year. Most news stories included a patient's name and residential information and explain why the person was hospitalized, such as vehicle accident or assault.

Sweeney L. Matching Known Patients to Health Records in Washington State Data. Harvard University. Data Privacy Lab. 1089-1. June 2013. (PDF)

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June 2013 33 States sell or give away personal health data. Only 3 use protections as strict as HIPAA.

We surveyed every state and the District of Columbia to see what patient specific information states release on hospital visits and how much potentially identifiable information is released in those records. Thirty-three states release hospital discharge data in some form, with varying levels of demographic information and hospital stay details such as hospital name, admission and discharge dates, diagnoses, doctors who attended to the patient, payer, and cost of the stay. We compared the level of demographic and other data to federal standards set by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA), which states do not have to adhere to for this type of data. We found that states varied widely in whether their data was HIPAA equivalent; while 13 were equivalent (or stricter) with demographic fields only 3 of the 33 states that released data did so in a form that was HIPAA equivalent across all fields.

Hooley S and Sweeney L. Survey of Publicly Available State Health Databases. Harvard University. Data Privacy Lab. White Paper 1075-1. June 2013. (PDF)

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