[Melissa Dribben, Health-record privacy impeding medical research," Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 March 2012. h/t Michelle Meyer.]
The newspaper explains:
Although [the hospital's archivist] was able to open admission records providing basic information - patients' sex, age, and suspected ailments - she could not allow access to detailed charts.
In England, where Segesser also is conducting this research, she said, medical records are fair game 75 years after the patient's death.
But in the United States, the privacy protection extends back forever.
"This is a huge issue," said Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. "It's closing off some of the most intriguing avenues in the history of medicine research."
In related news, Connecticut has modified the state's Freedom of Information Act to block similar research there. It did so without giving historians the chance to testify.