Privacy is key to interoperability

Privacy should not be considered an “obstacle” to patient data sharing and it is not a trade-off for electronic records, according to speakers at The Road to Interoperability conference held in Boston last week.

“Privacy is clearly a critical element in dealing with a national health information network,” said William Yasnoff, MD, PhD, managing partner, NHII Advisors. “Quality healthcare requires complete information. We need EHRs and privacy. This is not a tradeoff.” Because health information today is so scattered, current information sharing in not effective. Yasnoff called for the creation of an institution dedicated to the issue. “If no one is responsible, it doesn’t get done.”

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is that 13 to 17 percent of consumers admit to information-hiding behavior, such as not letting one provider know that they are seeing another, or using alternative treatments. He said that the true number is probably higher than those willing to admit the behavior. That is why complete information with patient consent should be the goal and no less should be expected.

Yasnoff discussed the valuable role that health record banks can play. He envisions a system solution similar to safe deposit boxes at banks, where the bank operates the infrastructure but do not own the contents. Health record banks would allow for value-added services and enables trust and privacy. Yasnoff said that the communities that have successfully implemented a health information infrastructure all have a central repository for patient data.

{As pointed out in this article, privacy is the key to any electronic health system. The Hippocratic Oath was written over 2,400 years ago, partially to insure that health information be kept confidential between a doctor and a patient. Although many years have passed and many innovations have occurred, this principle still holds true. Goldman captured this sentiment very succinctly: “Privacy promotes healthcare.” Studies, like the one Dr. Yasnoff cited show a growing number of Americans withhold valuable information if they do not believe it will be kept private. The only groups who will gain from a lack of privacy are the data miners and insurance companies. Congress must prove to consumers that an electronic health system is designed to promote healthcare by implementing legislation that insures health privacy and patient consent. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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