HHS told to standardize consent, privacy in e-health record exchanges

Health care IT executives weigh in on department's Federal Health IT Strategic Plan

The Health and Human Services Department’s new strategic plan for health IT doesn't go far enough in standardizing the ways in which patient consent for release of personal health information would be managed, a group of health care CIOs said April 18.

HHS in March published its Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2011 through 2015, which outlines activities for fostering widespread adoption of health IT and information sharing. The plan covers the period in which HHS is continuing distribution of $20 billion of economic stimulus funding to doctors and hospitals that buy and meaningfully use digital health record systems. The “meaningful use” requirements include exchange of patient health data to be aggregated for clinical, research, public health and budgetary purposes.


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However, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, which includes many hospital and health plan CIOs, said they have submitted a letter to HHS advising that the strategic plan does not go far enough in defining how patient consent management and privacy would be handled while exchanging health data.

“Several of the objectives listed throughout the plan foresee the fluid exchange of the right information, at the right time, for the health and safety of patients,” they wrote. HHS "needs to further define how consent management should be handled, and it must address the responsibility of patients, physicians, hospitals and insurers on how consent will be stored and transmitted through health information exchanges.”

The consent management system also must deal with information coming in from patients’ personal health record systems, which are generally patients’ own online repositories of their own health information in digital formats.

The health IT executives also want greater uniformity in health care data privacy laws from state to state.

The group wants HHS to establish standards for a national privacy regulatory environment that would apply to all health information exchange. Under current policies, there are geographic variations in privacy rules, which complicates compliance and makes it more costly, they wrote.

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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