By Dr. Anthony Policastro

In 1996 the Federal Government passed a law concerning patient records. It was called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It provided health records protection for patients.

The rules were in play long before that. However, they were not law. Therefore, no one could be held accountable. However, physicians knew the rules.

My wife would sometimes come home from shopping on base. She would tell me someone she knew had come up to her and started talking about their medical problems. She had no idea what they were talking about. They assumed I had told her everything. In fact, I had told her nothing.

During the Facebook craze period, I never set up a Facebook account. Think about a pediatrician with a Facebook page. What if one of his female adolescent patients sends him a friend request? Does he accept it? That would be creepy. Does he turn it down? That would be insulting.

There is another reason as well. My specialty was Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Most of my patients had ADHD, autism and leaning disorders. Some of them had anxiety and depression. Anyone who looked at my friend list would know who my patients were. They would then speculate as to what diagnosis they had.

Recently, we have seen social media blow up on two occasions about information that they had no right to know. They mistakenly thought that they were allowed to know everything about everyone’s health condition. They were wrong.

One of those was related to the surgery that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had. There were indeed issues related to that surgery. While he was out of the decision-making process for the defense of our country, he clearly should have named someone to take his role in those decisions.

For example, when I was a Commanding Officer in the military, I was in charge of the hospital 24/7. If I was on a business trip or vacation anywhere in the United States, I had to be available by phone. No cell phones back then. I had to call in several times a day even if they did not call me.

When I was on a business trip outside of the country, the same thing was true. The only time I could have someone take my place for decisions was if I was on vacation outside the United States. Since my wife does not fly, that clearly never happened.

Secretary Austin needed to shore up the chain of command. What he did not need to do was tell everyone why he had surgery. His diagnosis was none of their business. He was hounded until he finally told everyone what was going on. Even at that point, it was still none of their business.

We have seen the same exact nonsense with Catherine, Princess of Wales in England. She disappeared after her abdominal surgery. Of course, it was really nobody’s business that she had abdominal surgery. She is clearly not in any chain of command for decisions affecting the country.

Then when a photo was posted on Britain’s Mother’s Day of her and her children, there was an uproar that the photo was photoshopped. What difference does it really make? It was a Mother’s Day gesture.

Now we have found out that she is undergoing treatment for cancer. That is still no one’s business. The fact that she wanted to take time to tell her children about things in a way that they would understand at their young ages seems to have gotten lost in the process. They did not need to read it on social media first.

Great Britain does not have the same HIPAA law that we do. What they do have is the same right to privacy that we do. It is no one’s business about what is going on with the health care of famous people. If they want to announce it, they can. If they do not want to announce it, that is their business. It does not belong on social media. It does not deserve speculation. It is a classic case of mind your own business.