Health Information Privacy: What Do Doctors and Patients Want and Need?

n the last few weeks we have had a number of reminders that management of the privacy of patient records remains a contentious and difficult area. The first key reminder came in late February 2007 when Paul Feldman, co-chair of the American Health Information Community’s (AHIC) Confidentiality, Privacy and Security Workgroup, submitted his resignation to the interim National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

AHIC (which has the same role as the Australian Health Information Council also rather co-incidentally AHIC) is the peak health IT policy advisory board in the US and provides advice directly to the US Secretary for Health and Human Services (the equivalent of our Federal Health Minister).

In his resignation letter Feldman writes that the workgroup “has not made substantial progress toward the development of comprehensive privacy and security policies that must be at the core of a National Health Information Network (NHIN).”

Given this resignation comes after six meetings and many months of work, the degree of difficulty in reaching a consensus between parties is obvious.

The second reminder came with the April 2007 release of a survey conducted among UK GPs regarding the sharing of clinical records electronically with the UK NHS ‘Spine’ which is a secure repository of shared electronic patient records which under appropriate conditions can be accessed to assist in patient management anywhere in the UK.

{Australian health blog about how electronic health records and privacy rights are handled around the world features Patient Privacy Rights as the “one organisation and advocacy entity in the US that ‘gets it’”—‘it’ meaning the need for patient control of records in electronic health systems. In the UK, physicians are FAR more protective of their patients medical records than in the US. 40% will not share patient records with the national data base, 80% believe that electronic sharing of records can threaten patient confidentiality, and 60% oppose ‘opt-out’ of records sharing, preferring that patients ‘opt-in’. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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