Sharing of Health Information Progresses, but Privacy Lags

By M.L. Baker  |  Posted 2006-10-31 Email Print this article Print

Standards and regulations on how health information can be shared have improved, but patient information still needs protection.

A year after a federal advisory committee recommended how health information could be shared, the country has moved a long way to harmonizing standards and relaxing regulations that barred hospitals from promoting health IT, but it still needs to implement measures to protect patients' information.

In October 2005, a commission on systemic interoperability laid out a series of recommendations for connecting the fragmented systems that hold Americans' health information.

On Oct. 31, 2006, Scott Wallace, head of the now-disbanded commission, said that the government had acted on eight of the 14 recommendations.

However, it has not yet adopted recommendations that would prevent patients' from being discriminated against because of the release of the information, even if the release itself was illegal.

Of areas where progress has been made, one of the most notable is the relaxation of anti-corruption rules that prevented hospitals from donating equipment and training to community physicians to help them adopt health IT.

Other achievements are a certification process for electronic health records and selection of technology standards to allow different systems to exchange information, according to a statement released Oct. 31 by the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, which Scott Wallace has led for several years.

However, HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) has not moved to find ways to prohibit discrimination based on data gathered through the unauthorized release of patients' health information.

It also has not implemented criminal sanctions for privacy violations, even though a report this June from the NCVHS (National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics), a group that advises HHS, made the same recommendation, along with the advice that HIPAA (Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act) be enforced.

HHS did commission a study examining how variations in states' privacy laws might impede interoperable health IT.

A pdf from the alliance describing the commission's recommendations and the progress made for each is available here.

Read the full story on Sharing of Health Information Progresses, but Privacy Lags.

Monya Baker is co-editor of's Health Care Center. She has written for publications including the journal Nature Biotechnology, the Acumen Journal of Sciences and the American Medical Writers Association, among others, and has worked as a consultant with biotechnology companies. A former high school science teacher, Baker holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Carleton College and a master's of education from Harvard.

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