An Army effort to reduce suicides by sharing more of soldiers' personal therapy information with squad, platoon or company leaders — even in cases where there is no threat of self-harm — is pushing the limit of privacy laws, say civilian experts on medical records restrictions.
Soldiers may be discouraged from seeking care if they fear their privacy will be violated, says Mark Botts, an associate professor of public law at the University of North Carolina who specializes in the privacy of behavioral health records.
"They definitely run that risk," he says of the Army. "If the soldier knows (private information will be released), they're going to be worried."
But Army lawyers say that they are well within the law and that the more leaders know, the more they can help troubled soldiers.
"The emphasis is on trying to prevent suicides," says Charles Orck, a senior Army lawyer who reviewed the practice. "The more information, the better to be able to evaluate and analyze and try to come up with a solution."