Matthew Holt

A Question For You Privacy Wonks Out There

When I read a headline like Privacy advocates hail stimulus bills I immediately wonder which privacy advocates. If it’s Deborah Peel I shudder, as her aim appears to be to shut down any system of electronic health data exchange. But if it’s Deven McGraw, from the Center for Democracy and Technology, I’m pretty encouraged as she (and her organization) seem to be taking the militant moderate path on privacy—putting patients in control of their data but encouraging the benefits of electronic records.

So I’m a little puzzled that they both like the privacy aspects of the stimulus package. Can someone who’s read the bill let us know what’s in there, and why they both like it while providers, payers and pharmacy chains hate it?

CODA: Of course who cares about the patients? Most importantly physicians’ privacy will now be safeguarded—even though it’s only their privacy about what we the taxpayer are giving them as contractors that Consumers Checkbook wanted to violate. I can just see Haliburton’s lawyers ready to cite this one.

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5 replies »

  1. Nate, I did a search on World Net Daily (Ann Coulter News) for Bush’s NSA illegal wiretaps. Nothing came up, so maybe you could find something for me. How come WND is concerned about open, public, and debated legislation on privacy, but not seemingly about the secret illegal kind of information gathering from Bush, which took a whistleblower to expose?

  2. Matthew,
    You’re right to be encouraged by Deven McGraw’s pragmatic but thorough approach to privacy. Unlike some other privacy advocates, McGraw is also a passionate advocate for the benefits of HIT, particularly when it is patient-centered and focused on quality improvement.
    To your question, a couple quick points:
    1. The disclosure and notification requirements are critically important to gaining consumer trust and not overly burdensome.
    2. The marketing restrictions will help to prevent abuse and in no way preclude pharmacies, providers or plans from using patients’ personal information for quality improvement purposes (critically important to information therapy and Health 2.0 QI efforts).
    I’m happy to expand on these and other points if you’re interested.

  3. For all the crying about Bush’s wire taps why doesn’t anyone seem bothered by this;
    A little-discussed provision in President Obama’s economic stimulus plan would demand that every American submit to a government program for electronic medical records without a choice to opt out, and it has privacy advocates more than a little alarmed.
    Patients might be alarmed, too, privacy advocates said, if they realized information such as documentation on abortions, mental health problems, impotence, being labeled as a non-compliant patient, lawsuits against doctors and sexual problems could be shared electronically with, perhaps, millions of people.
    Blevins’ organization, one of the few raising the alarm at this point, said the stimulus plan would impose an electronic health records system on every person in the U.S. without any provision for seeking patient consent or allowing them not to participate.
    Another group, Consumer Watchdog, even suggested today Google is trying to lobby for the “sale of electronic medical records.”
    The group said, “Reportedly Google is pushing for the provisions so it may sell patient medical information to its advertising clients on the new ‘Google Health’ database.”

  4. Dear Matthew: Although there are some significant changes to HIPAA’s privacy rule under the HITECH Act as passed by the House, including improved enforcement, coverage of business associates, and breach notification provisions — the Senate version, which doesn’t contain some of these, is still being marked up. In all honesty, I think it will take a few days for even the most involved privacy wonk (and I’m not one of those) to give us the answers that you are asking for. Kind regards, DCK

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