Press Release
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For Immediate Release
Press Contact:
Irene Oujo (201) 996-1154



February 23, 2005//Hackensack, NJ:U.S. adults are divided right down the middle on whether the potential privacy risks associated with a patient electronic medical record system outweigh the expected benefits to patients and society, according to Dr. Alan F. Westin, Professor of Public Law & Government Emeritus, Columbia University and Director of a new Program on Information Technology, Health Records & Privacy at Privacy & American Business (P&AB).

In testimony given today before the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Westin released the results of a new national Harris Interactive® survey on the American public and what are known as Electronic Medical Records (EMR).

This telephone survey was conducted in conjunction with the new Westin Program and was fielded February 8-13, 2005.

Major Findings

"I am convinced that how the public sees the privacy risks and responses from EMR managers will be absolutely critical to the EMR systems success or will be a major factor in its failure," Dr. Westin said. "That is the reality that program advocates will need to consider, respond to, and overcome by implementing a range of laws, rules, practices, technology arrangements, privacy education, and positive patient experiences if EMRs are to win majority public support and high patient participation," Dr. Westin added.

"I view this result as a powerful, publicly-derived Privacy Design Specification for any national EMR system," Dr. Westin said. "It is a design approach that will be ignored, put off until a later time, or rejected as unworkable at the peril of any EMR systems entire future."

Additional Findings


In his testimony, Dr. Westin made several recommendations to the Committee, based on the survey findings:

For more information, visit Media inquiries should be directed to Irene Oujo at or (201) 996-1154.

About the Survey

Harris Interactive® conducted this survey by telephone within the United States between February 8 and 13, 2005 among a nationwide cross section of 1,012 adults (ages 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race, education, number of adults, number of voice/telephone lines in the household, region and size of place were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population.

In theory, with a probability sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results for the overall sample have a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (nonresponse), question wording and question order, interviewer bias, weighting by demographic control data and screening (e.g., for likely voters). It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors.

About Dr. Alan F. Westin

Dr. Westin is widely regarded as the nations leading expert on information privacy. His two major books Privacy and Freedom (1967) and Databanks in a Free Society (1972) were seminal works and helped support major new privacy legislation in the U.S. and abroad. Since the 1960s, Dr. Westin has maintained a continuing special interest in medical confidentiality and health-information-systems privacy issues. He conducted a leading study for the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (NBS), Computers, Health Records, and Citizen Rights (1976). The Privacy Code, this report recommended, was sent by NBS to every hospital in the U.S., and served as a model for hundreds of hospital and health institutions.

Dr. Westin was the privacy advisor to an award-winning 1993 Public Television Special Documentary on "Privacy and Health in the American Workplace." Also in 1993, he was Academic Advisor to a major survey of health care practitioners and the public on "Health Information Privacy" (1993).

Dr. Westin led a project in 1993-95 on privacy in genetic-information uses, for the ELSI (Ethical, Legal and Social Issues) program of the Human Genome Project.

Dr. Westin has been a privacy advisor to federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration, Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, and Office of Technology Assessment. He has also been a privacy consultant to more than 100 companies and non-profit organizations, including IBM, Smith Kline, Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the Multi-State Psychiatric Information System.

About the Program for Information Technology, Health Records and Privacy

Led by Dr. Alan F. Westin, the Program is administered by Privacy & American Business, an activity of the Center for Social and Legal Research. It focuses on privacy issues involved in the re-shaping of the nations health care system through advanced technology applications, which the Program sees as one of the most important societal developments in the next two decades. Program activities include: continuing public opinion surveys on health privacy; case studies of EMR experiments and the Regional EMR Development projects; developing new legal and policy privacy initiatives for the EMR system; producing white papers and other reports; and convening seminars and conferences to explore these issues with the principal participants in and experts on EMR efforts. For more information, visit

The Program is an activity of the Center for Social & Legal Research, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy think tank exploring U.S. and global issues of consumer and employee privacy and data protection since its launch in 1993.

The Program is administered by P&AB, the first organization to chart and analyze for business the rise of privacy from a second-tier concern to a front-burner issue and to provide opportunities in programs and meetings to assist businesses in understanding the privacy environment as it is evolving.

The Center and all its activities are led by Dr. Alan Westin, Professor of Public Law & Government Emeritus, Columbia University, and President and Publisher of P&AB; Robert Belair, Partner at Oldaker, Biden & Belair and P&ABs Vice President; and Lorrie Sherwood, P&ABs Executive Director.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive Inc. (, the 15th largest and fastest-growing market research firm in the world, is a Rochester, N.Y.-based global research company that blends premier strategic consulting with innovative and efficient methods of investigation, analysis and application. Known for The Harris Poll® and for pioneering Internet-based research methods, Harris Interactive conducts proprietary and public research to help its clients achieve clear, material and enduring results.

Harris Interactive combines its intellectual capital, databases and technology to advance market leadership through U.S. offices and wholly owned subsidiaries: London-based HI Europe (, Paris-based Novatris (, Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan, through newly acquired WirthlinWorldwide, a Reston, Virginia-based research and consultancy firm ranked 25th largest in the world, and through an independent global network of affiliate market research companies. EOE M/F/D/V