Patient Privacy Remains Key Concern In Health IT Adoption

Bipartisan efforts to promote health IT adoption could increase efficiency and lower costs, but privacy experts warn that if done incorrectly, the technology could pose serious threats to patient privacy, United Press International reports (Westenskow, United Press International, 6/13).

The current problem with electronic health records is that their main use "is not about health," and "[t]hey are not being used to take care of sick people," Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, said Wednesday at a meeting on health IT and patient privacy hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute, Technology Daily reports.

The secondary uses of EHRs, such as selling de-identified data and mining, are "appalling," Peel said. She added that even personal health records -- which companies such as Intel and Wal-Mart are promoting -- have "no protection in the law" and can be searched, sold or used to discriminate (Sternstein, Technology Daily, 6/13).

"Over four million health-related businesses, government agencies, etc. are legally allowed to use and access your medical records without notice, without consent and even if you object," Peel said.

David Wilkins -- spokesperson for Thomson Medstat, a data-analysis company -- said the data cannot be linked to specific individuals because they are all de-identified and the "processes have been audited by an external academic expert."

Peel, however, contends that patients still should be allowed to opt out of sharing their information, even if it is de-identified.

Rep. Dennis Moore (R-Kan.) has written a bill proposing that independent, third-party trusts compile complete EHRs. The government would monitor the trusts and grant accreditation to those with secure operations, he said. The health IT trusts proposed in the legislation would allow patients to control which parts of their EHRs are viewable but would not limit emergency responders.

Other current health IT bills in Congress include a measure by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), called the Independent Health Record Act, that would give federal employees the right to access their medical histories through EHRs. The bill also contains five safety provisions similar to Moore's measure (United Press International, 6/13).

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