HHS advisory panel considers patient privacy rules

Existing rules may suffice for one-to-one data exchanges, panel says

Doctors and hospitals that want to exchange patient medical data electronically for treatment purposes may not need additional rules for patients' consent providing certain conditions are met, according to recommendations  being considered by a federal advisory committee to the Health and Human Services Department.

The Health IT Policy Committee, which advises HHS, reviewed recommendations today from its Privacy and Security Workgroup. The policy committee is advising HHS on implementing the health IT provisions of the economic stimulus law. Under that law, HHS will distribute more than $17 billion to doctors and hospitals who buy and meaningfully use electronic health records systems.

HHS is considering requirements for meaningful use for 2013 and beyond, including rules for protecting patient privacy during health data exchange.

Policies are needed to deal with patient privacy and consent in information exchange, especially with respect to facilitators, or middlemen, the workgroup recommended. Rules should be set for middleman data access, retention and reuse, as well as security requirements.

However, in cases in which a provider exchanges data on a one-to-one basis with another provider — with or without a facilitator — there should be requirements for encryption, limits on what personally identifiable data is contained in the message, and identification an authentication of individuals in the exchange, the workgroup said.

In that scenario, those protections ought to be enough to ensure privacy and consent, without creating additional consent rules, the workgroup added.

“If strong policies are in place and enforced, we don’t think that the above scenario needs any additional individual consent beyond what is require by current law,” the workgroup said.

 

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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