The degree of confidentiality to be accorded data gathered and analyzed by Professional Standards Review Organizations (PSROs) in the course of their medical peer review activities is a crucial and controversial issue in health policy. In late 1977, a consumer organization in Washington, D.C. sought access to data in the hands of the local PSRO through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, touching off a continuing debate throughout the country. That lawsuit is now on appeal.

The courts, the Congress, and the Department of Health and Human Services have all been involved in the ongoing controversy. PSROs, practicing physicians, and health care consumers all have an interest in the outcome. This article analyzes the PSRO program and its data confidentiality problems, examines in detail the lawsuit that sparked the controversy, and assesses the overall impact of this case on the PSRO program and on federal regulation of the health care system in general.

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