The old paper records were kept, and piled up over the years – key word: they were KEPT. Why? Not just for your continuity of medical care, but to cover the doctors’ and hospitals’ posteriors in case of malpractice claims or other law suits. Then came the age of electronic records – and scanners. Medical records were then scanned into digital format, and archived. I can verify and promise that, from personal extended experience.
Any genealogical researcher knows about the degree to which old, VERY old, records have been scanned, digitized, archived, and now indexed in fully searchable form. Want to find somebody in the 1900 US (or many other developed countries’) census records? It ain’t the old days of blinding yourself in front of a microfilm reader, going page after page after page of faded, nearly illegible hand written census records on a screen. Now days a massive amount of that information has been electronically transcribed and indexed, and is fully searchable within minutes, from the comfort of your own home, or even on a bus using your smart phone.
While your medical information isn’t quite so publicly available, the rest of the process is highly comparable. Years upon years upon years of old piles of medical records are now scanned and easily available to a very wide variety of people. MB and Sledjockey are absolutely on target.
Another example. Back in college a group of us donated platelet rich plasma to a cancer research hospital as a service project to save the life of leukemia patients. They asked if they could keep samples of my white cells for an experimental program to research ways of saving the lives of cancer patients. Heck – naive 1960s me, without the benefit of seeing 50 years into the future, said, “Of course!” It seemed at the time to be the decent thing to do with no downside at all to me. Fast forward many years later, with a visit back there just to say hello to any of the old staff that might still be there (I donated roughly 100 times, and became very familiar with the staff). Sure enough, the (by then ancient) MD/PhD researcher was still there, and immediately remembered me. He gave me a tour off the updated facility, and in the course of the tour he told me that my cells from the 1960s (or their “offspring”) are still living today, as part of their ongoing research. Oh joy! Now detailed genetic material, with my name on it, is available to who-knows-who. I have no problem with the original researchers who I knew and trusted. It’s who else, particularly the government “researchers,” that I don’t know or trust. And they “own” my genetic material. Will anything bad come of it? No idea, and most likely not. But the potential implications today, from medical records and information even a half century or more ago, are truly concerning. Anyone not seeing that is naive at best.