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Case 43. Privacy


A pregnant woman, Rhonda Kaufmann, who received services and support from a WIC program was offered prenatal care subsidized by the county government at a local HMO. When she went to the HMO for the first visit, she was asked if she would agree to participate in a survey designed to help evaluate the care she received and to release the records of her prenatal, delivery and postpartum care for that purpose. She agreed.

The county agency hired a sociologist, Dr. Sue Staffee, to conduct the survey and to do the evaluation. There were a number of agencies providing prenatal care, and the county government wanted to determine which agencies were most effective. The county agency permitted the sociologist to publish results from the evaluations since she was interested in studying the access to health care across various groups in the county. A year after she had completed the evaluation, she was contacted by Jane Thipen, one of Dr. Staffee's graduate students. The graduate student explained that she was analyzing the data from the evaluation survey for her dissertation on social factors related to low birth weight. She asked if she could make an appointment to interview this woman further and promised to pay her for her time. The woman felt that her privacy had been violated and complained to officials of county government.


  1. Whose responsibility was it to insure that the privacy of the patient not be violated?
  2. What actions might have been taken to do so?
  3. Are there conditions under which the sociologist could ethically give her graduate student access to this data?

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