Privacy compliance has declined

Three years after federal rules governing the privacy of patients’ medical records went into effect, compliance seems to have declined, according to an annual survey conducted by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).


The association surveyed 1,117 hospitals and health systems, asking officials at the facilities about compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules. Although 91 percent said in 2005 that they were mostly compliant, that number dropped to 85 percent this year.


“A slight drop in the number of facilities reporting themselves to be fully or mostly compliant with HIPAA should serve as a warning to the industry that compliance should not be taken for granted,” AHIMA President Jill Callahan Dennis said in a written statement.


Survey respondents cited lack of resources and diminished management support as the chief reasons for faltering compliance. The survey also asked about compliance with HIPAA information security rules, which took effect in 2005. About 75 percent of the respondents said they were fully or mostly compliant, a 60 percent increase from a year earlier.


AHIMA officials said this result suggests that compliance with the security rules is easier than with the privacy rules.


When respondents were asked what areas of the HIPAA privacy rule the federal government should change, more than a quarter of them said they should not have to account for all disclosures of protected health information.


The rule gives patients a right to know who has seen their records other than the people involved in their treatment, payment or health care operations. More than half of the respondents cited some difficulties in complying with this provision.


Making records available to relatives or partners of patients was the next trouble spot on the list, followed by giving patients their own records after treatment has ended and releasing information to law enforcement officers.


The survey results also suggested that patients are becoming more concerned about the privacy of their medical records. More patients now ask questions or refuse to sign release-of-information forms.


Many observers have cited public concerns about privacy of personal medical records as a potential barrier to developing a national health information network. AHIMA’s report on the survey concurred, stating, “Without consumer confidence, the national health information network will never succeed.”

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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