Court: Patients can’t file federal privacy suits against doctors

Physicians still can get sued in state court. The plaintiff attorney says that’s not enough.
The first federal appeals court decision to affirm that patients cannot sue under HIPAA offers some relief for physicians. But with patients still able to bring privacy claims in state court, the ruling does little to alleviate doctors’ concerns about the possibility of lawsuits for confidentiality breaches.

CCHIT names trustees, moves toward nonprofit status

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) announced Monday the establishment of a new board of trustees, bringing it one step closer to becoming a fully independent, nonprofit organization.
According to Sue Reber, spokesperson for CCHIT, the new board of trustees won’t change how CCHIT functions. “Little change should be seen immediately,” she said.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services deemed CCHIT an officially “Recognized Certification Body,” able to provide inspection and valid certification to electronic health records networks and how they interoperate.
“CCHIT is under a contract with HHS and is required to become a self-sustaining organization with a fiduciary board at the end of its three year HHS funding period,” Reber said. “Establishing a new trustee board is part of that compliance.”

3rd HIPAA criminal case hints at federal tactics

Legal experts say that as long as HIPAA-covered entities play by the rules, they might be spared from prosecution for an employee’s alleged illegal actions.
When HIPAA privacy rules went into effect in 2003, doctors, hospitals and other “covered entities” wondered if the government would go after them for violations made by their employees. A Justice Dept. memo issued June 2005 seemed to make it clear that would be the case.
But as the department began prosecuting the third criminal case involving privacy breaches, its tactics indicate the government isn’t sticking completely with that stance, some legal experts say.

NCVHS Letter to HHS

On June 22, 2006, the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) sent (HHS) a letter report, Privacy and Confidentiality in the Nationwide Health Information Network. Among the 26 recommendations was the following: R-12. HHS should work with other federal agencies and the Congress to ensure that privacy and confidentiality rules apply to all individuals and entities that create, compile, store, transmit, or use personal health information in any form and in any setting, including employers, insurers, financial institutions, commercial data providers, application service providers, and schools.

The NCVHS held a series of three hearings in 2006-2007 to learn more about the health privacy practices of entities that make significant use of health information in their day-to-day operations but are not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). At the first two hearings, we heard from representatives of life insurers, insurance regulators, human resource professionals, occupational health physicians, financial institutions, primary and secondary schools, and colleges. The third hearing focused on health care providers and other entities in the health industry that are not covered by the HIPAA privacy rule. We inquired about the degree to which they are regulated by other federal or state laws and the possible effects that federal health privacy coverage would have on their operations. What we learned from the testimony strongly reinforces our conviction that all entities that deal with personally identifiable health information should be covered by some federal privacy law. The NCVHS would like to share with you some additional observations in support of our earlier recommendation with respect to this last group of non-covered entities, those operating in the health care arena.

{The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics’ (NCVHS) letter to Secretary Leavitt recommends that “HHS and Congress should move expeditiously to establish laws and regulations that will ensure that all entities that create, compile, store, transmit or use personally identifiable health information are covered by a federal privacy law.” But the problem is what exactly is “privacy”? So far, Congress has NOT defined privacy, which has resulted in Americans having no right to privacy in electronic health systems. If Congress does not pass a law that provides a standard definition of health information privacy, we will simply get more bad laws and regulations that talk about privacy but do not actually protect health privacy. Privacy is defined by NCVHS as the right to control access to personal health information. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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Ohio clarifies doctor role in patient privacy

Doctors can defend patients’ privacy rights for them, and HIPAA doesn’t preempt a stricter state law, an Ohio appeals court decides.

Patient privilege belongs foremost to the patient. But what is a physician allowed to do to protect that privacy when he or she is whisked into a lawsuit by a court order for medical records?

In Article, Doctors Back Ban on Gifts From Drug Makers

The gifts, drugs and classes that makers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices routinely give doctors undermine medical care, hurt patients and should be banned, a group of influential doctors say in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Medical schools and teaching hospitals should be the first to establish a comprehensive ban, the group writes. But the authors argue that all doctors should eventually follow suit.

Broadly adopted, the recommendations would transform doctors’ day-to-day lives and shut off the focus of drug makers’ biggest expenditures. But Dr. David Blumenthal, an author of the article, said it was “not very likely” that many in medicine would listen to the group.

“I’m not very optimistic,” said Dr. Blumenthal, a professor at Harvard Medical School who, like many of the article’s 10 other authors, has studied conflicts of interest in medicine for years.