Patient privacy in a digital world

People with behavioral health problems may be particularly sensitive about having their health information shared

During the past decade, behavioral healthcare has seen the advent of new technologies for capturing patient data. In fact, the conversion of paper records to electronic medical records (EMRs) has been identified as a national healthcare priority by a presidential executive order. Such changes have generated many challenges and opportunities for behavioral healthcare organizations looking to capture information about their services’ quality, ensure patient safety, and protect patient privacy in an electronic environment…

…Ensuring that advertent or inadvertent data disclosure will not occur is particularly challenging in an electronic environment, in which third-party vendors often develop and maintain provider databases. Dr. Deborah Peel, founder and chair of the nonprofit organization Patient Privacy Rights, suggests that to protect patient privacy, behavioral healthcare executives should closely examine their vendor contracts. “You should never use a vendor that ever wants to own or data mine protected health information,” she says. “But a great many of them have that in their contracts as a way of helping to pay for the infrastructure…”

…To assist healthcare organizations in choosing a well-protected system, Patient Privacy Rights recently organized a consumer-led coalition for certifying health information systems and products. Dr. Peel estimates that the certification system will be in full operation in the next two to three months. Although the group has not yet developed a Web site, http://www.localhost:8888/pprold will have information about the project in the meantime.

Dr. Peel also says that in an EMR “the consumer should be able to segment within that health record whatever they think is sensitive information.”

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