Finding the Right Line Between Healthcare Privacy and Accessibility

Privacy versus accessibility duking it out in the healthcare arena.  One of healthcare’s biggest challenges is balancing the sharing of health information with the need to assure patient privacy.  Although privacy has been assured since the implementation of the 1996 HIPAA law, the issue of patient consent is now at the forefront because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) financial support of electronic medical records has reignited interest in data-sharing and patient privacy rights.

Providers must be able to show that they are sharing information to improve patient care to be eligible to receive subsidies to acquire electronic healthcare records-keeping technology.  Conversely, the stimulus bill modifies HIPAA and allows patients to demand that their records for a treatment or service not be shared with their insurance company if they pay the full cost directly.  Also included in the stimulus bill is a ban on selling patient data.

Federal officials believe that protecting patient privacy is critical to developing a national health information exchange that patients trust.  Doug Fridsma, acting director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) said “We always put in here that privacy and security is paramount.” The government “plays an integral role in assuring trust and ensuring privacy and security of health information.”  Because the ONC has come under criticism for being insincere about privacy, the organization is now under pressure to release privacy and security policies.

According to Fridsma, “It’s going to be an iterative, incremental approach.  We have a lot of moving parts.  I’ve been trying to do as much as I can to support the work that’s been going on and to at least keep the channels of communications open.”

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