No laws broken, only trust

It's enough to make you sick. Australian doctors are legally selling confidential medical records to a marketing firm with links to the pharmaceutical industry.

GPs are handing over their patients' drug records (with no names attached) and receiving as little as $150 or gift vouchers as payment.

Even more disturbing the federal Privacy Commissioner has approved the deal between doctors and the Cam Group, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical promotions companies simply because the data is "de-identified" so it doesn't breach the Privacy Act.

But the commissioner has warned removing a patient's name and address does not guarantee anonymity.

The information is being collected via a software program used by doctors and provided by Health Communications Network.

More than 200 doctors have already signed up for their cash and gifts.

The on-selling of patient information was first raised by Computerworld in April in an article entitled "Privacy Amendments change some access rights for GPs" (CW online April 1, 2005) which stated that GPs had successfully lobbied to amend the Privacy Act so that data could be shared "without consent".

While records about Australians are obviously only worth a gift voucher, a much higher value has been placed on Bank of America data which included the personal details of nearly 700,000 customers.

The account details are at the centre of the largest US banking breach in history and led to the arrest of nine people last week who were part of a data-theft ring.

Police found the ring's database, which held information the thieves had collected from up to a dozen banks over the past four years.

In this case the information was stolen, not willingly handed over for a few bucks.

That's the main difference between the Australian case and the US theft.

Here no laws were broken, just doctor-patient trust.

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