Health record haste sparks privacy fears

Developing EHRs too quickly might compromise privacy

The economic stimulus law is creating privacy risks as it forces fast development of electronic health records, according to at least one privacy advocate.

31 flavors

The Health Information Technology Standards Committee has been busy. In addition to the Privacy and Security Workgroup’s recommendations, on July 21, the committee’s Clinical Quality Workgroup submitted 31 performance and data capture measures for review.

The committee will evaluate the proposed measures and forward the advice to HHS for incorporation into rulemaking later this year.

The workgroup’s performance measures incorporate 26 benchmarks already endorsed by the National Quality Forum, including data on the percentage of diabetes patients whose disease is under control and the percentage of drug prescriptions submitted electronically.

— Alice Lipowicz

The Privacy and Security Workgroup of the Health and Human Services Department’s Health Information Technology Standards Committee presented its recommendations to the committee on July 21. It included a framework of 37 standards to be implemented in phases in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

But Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of the Coalition for Patient Privacy, said the proposals postpone several major privacy protections until 2015 even though the bulk of the health IT implementations will begin in 2011.

“This is a stunning defeat for consumer protection,” Peel said. “The things that mean the most for consumers are going to be delayed for five or six years.”

Peel said privacy protection tools, such as consent management systems, audit trails and segmentation of patient information, would be delayed until 2015 under the current proposals.

Congress created the standards committee in the economic stimulus law to advise HHS on rulemaking. The agency will distribute at least $17 billion in stimulus payments to doctors and hospitals that buy certified EHR systems and demonstrate meaningful use of those systems.

The Privacy and Security Workgroup said “meaningful use” should require secure IT infrastructures and configurations and risk analysis, risk management and contingency plans that comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Mon, Jul 27, 2009 Glenn Laffel, MD PhD Boston

Although the EMR market is crowded and highly competitive, all of us can probably agree that protecting patient privacy is essential to the success of any federal initiative to expand the use of EMRs in this country. A breach of confidentiality from one EMR will have negative consequences not just for that vendor but for all vendors, not to mention the policymakers at ONCHIT. Practice Fusion offers a free, Web-based EMR. We would welcome any opportunity to work with policymakers, consumer groups or even our competitors in the marketplace to assure that patient privacy is maintained to the satisfaction of everyone. Glenn Laffel, MD, PhD, Sr. VP Clinical Affairs, Practice Fusion

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