eHealth Alliance pushes safe harbor for data exchange

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The State Alliance for e-Health will likely develop legislative language giving healthcare providers a safe harbor from penalties if they break a state’s law while exchanging electronic health records across state lines.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices created the alliance as a forum for elected state officials and other policy-makers to work together to resolve issues related to the exchange of medical information.

The alliance’s Health Information Protection Task Force voted to recommend that the organization develop the language as part of an effort to remove barriers to exchanging patients’ health information between providers in different states. The task force also recommended that the alliance develop definitions for terms pertaining to patients’ participation in health information exchanges. The terms “consent” and “authorization” are often used to describe patients’ agreement to have their e-health records shared through an exchange, but they often are confused with other permissions, such as consenting to treatment.

The task force proposed the development of standard content and process options for patients’ exchange authorizations, so that a patient’s wishes are more readily understood and adhered to.

Since patients’ consent to having their information shared with other providers is usually captured on paper, it is difficult to manage and share the consent data, said Ray Campbell, executive director and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium.

Rhode Island’s health data repository will require patients to give their consent twice: once when a doctor wants to upload the records to the repository and again when another doctor wants to download the records, said Laura Ripp, privacy project manager at the Rhode Island Health Information Exchange. That policy is in accordance with state law.

A new federal law might be needed to enable state-to-state exchanges of information, said Bill Rudman, an associate professor of health information management at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The alliance is expected to consider the task force’s recommendations at its August meeting.