Health record haste sparks privacy fears

From Federal Computer Week (7/24/09)
By Alice Lipowicz

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

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.

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