HITECH Act and government access to private health records

When the Electronic Freedom of Information Act was passed into law, ordinary citizens were allowed access to previously secret government data. With the new Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (the HITECH Act) the government is now attempting to view and organize our country’s private health records. It’s quite a project.

As part of the economic stimulus package, the purpose of the HITECH Act is to organize health data nationally. The federal government has established the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to oversee this process. The committee is charged with the difficult task of developing secure health data exchanges within and across state lines. The project will require a set of standards, services, and policies that enable the secure exchange of health information.

This is how the program will work. For the next six years, through 2016, health care providers may qualify for up to $29 billion in HITECH Act subsidies. To qualify, they must meet twenty-five criteria to be considered “meaningful users” of health IT. It is not entirely clear what “meaningful use” means at this point in time. The topic has been the subject of recent debate on social networking sites in the health care sector.

At the same time this new plan is being implemented, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules were amended to enhance notice requirements and fines for security breaches. HIPAA requires a formal notice be sent to patients for a breach when their private Protected Health Information (PHI) data is revealed to the public. The DHHS has started recently to post these breach notices on their website. Software systems, like paper systems, come with a set of liabilities. As software applications proliferate there is a legitimate concern about privacy and security.

The consensus among observers and officials is the new HITECH Act plan will take many years to implement. Insiders believe all the money in the world will not make an inefficient health care delivery system more efficient unless underlying changes are made in how care is paid for. Most participants agree that physician input is a key factor but as we all know some health care providers have more readily adapted to technology than others.

As the Public Sector moves in to medical care, there is still great uncertainty. Former public officials believe that hospitals and businesses that benefit from the status quo are less likely to change. Some have suggested reevaluating the twenty-five HITECH Act criteria to make it less difficult to participate in the program.

The administration has attempted to jump start the process organizing a pilot program including the Department of Defense, Social Security Administration, Veterans Health Administration, Kaiser Permanente and MedVirginia. Here are some good ideas the committee recommends:

  1. Balance the need for a consistent level of interoperability and security with the reality that not all users are at the same point on the path to comprehensive interoperability
  2. Consider consumers who may have simpler needs for information exchange, or less technically sophisticated capabilities
  3. Broaden the systems’ use to include a wider variety of providers
  4. Identify standards and services for direct electronic communication among providers

About Dena Wurman

Dena Wurman has a Masters Degree in Public Administration, a Juris Doctorate and worked as a business and financial administrator in the public sector before starting a law practice. She is a member of the American Bar Association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. For a free consultation visit www.denawurman.com, e-mail dwlegal@comcast.net or follow me on Twitter @denawurman.

4 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Good one, dude! Even though this subject has been written to death…what you have written provides a complete fresh insight. I have just no words to express now. Thank you.

  2. […] the idea that clinical information systems would become interoperable, meaningful use incentives pumped billions of dollars to doctors and hospitals. Much of that money transferred to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) vendors.  Even so, vendors […]

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