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Privacy and the elderly


It’s a Matter of Your Health

Privacy is a big topic of concern for all people. Are our phones destroying our privacy by tracking our every step? Do the computers with their cookies record what sites we visit? Who gets this information and what exactly do they do with it? Is there, such a thing as privacy anymore or has the definition of the word changed?

There is no doubt that most people want and deserve privacy of their medical records. There is a group of people that this is of acute concern. A recent study examined elderly patients’ desires to keep their medical records private.

“Respecting and preserving the autonomy of the elderly is crucial. Elders and families should have honest discussions about preferences for information sharing and decision-making, and share these conversations with health care providers.” states Dr. Bradley Crotty. This study which was performed at Harvard’s Deaconess Hospital looked at a group of elderly and their care providers who were residents at their homes, of assisted living and of nursing homes. The caregivers included spouses, adult children, other relatives and friends that met the definition of their caregivers.

There were many different opinions that were discussed. The caregivers felt they needed access to the elderly’s health information to decrease stress but the elderly patients wanted to maintain control of their information to avoid burdening their children or loved ones with their illnesses and problems.

Many families voiced their need to know about the elderly patient’s health records to make it easier for them to schedule visits and coordinate care and inform the rest of the family. The elderly patients again worried this would cause anxiety among their family and loved ones.

The more independent the elderly patient was the more they did not want to give up control of their records and certainly not decision making. The elderly patients stated that if they did have to give up control they wanted this to happen in a gradual manner. They wanted information shared only in an emergency basis initially rather than on a day to day basis.

“Fluidity is key in sharing elderly patients’ medical information. And it should be possible to tailor access based on shifting preferences of the individuals involved, the progression of patients’ illness and seniors’ level of autonomy, said Dr. Pravene Nath.”

Certainly there are elderly or senior patients who need the help of their caregivers to access the medical system and to carry out the instruction of their medical providers. The problem arises when there are caregivers, some family and some not, who desire medical information. The healthcare provider may not know who these people are and if they should or should not have access. This is when legal documents are needed or when the senior under no duress gives permission for their medical information to be shared.

This can be a slippery slope. Do have this conversation with your loved ones and again get your legal documents in place. Share these documents with the health care provider.

Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Tune into Dr. Bland’s radio health program, It’s a Matter of Your Health: The 30 Minute Health Magazine, Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on WNAA, 90.1FM. Dr. Bland can also be heard on Wednesdays Sirius/XM at 5 p.m. on station 142. To contact Dr. Bland with suggestions for future articles, email: or follow on Twitter @Drvbland.