GAO: Federal EHR plan needs more privacy emphasis
By 2014, the Bush Administration hopes to do away with paper medical records, and wants every American to have a “personal electronic medical record” available throughout the nation’s health care system. The nationwide health information network would connect insurers, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, but the Government Accountability Office has failed to see a clear strategy on how the Bush administration and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will protect patient privacy, the New York Times reports.

Senator Daniel K. Akaka, (D-Hawaii), who requested the investigation, said “more and more companies, health care providers and carriers are moving forward with health information technology without the necessary protections.” Since medical records are some of the most confidential documents a person can own, the G.A.O. fears that personal health information may get into the wrong hands, the Times reports.

Mark A. Rothstein, the chairman of a panel that advises the government on health information policy, said Congress should stop providing more money for a nationwide health information network unless the administration did more to protect privacy. “A sense of urgency is lacking,” he said.

Dr. William A. Yasnoff, a physician and computer scientist who worked at the Department of Health and Human Services from 2002 to 2005, says the department lacks a plan for ensuring privacy. “Anything you do to make information more accessible for good, laudable purposes will simultaneously make it more accessible for evil, nefarious purposes. People intuitively understand that, and they are worried,” Yasnoff said, the Times reports.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) issued a statement in support of the GAO findings, though emphasized the complexity of the privacy issues at hand. Linda L. Kloss, MA, RHIA, FAHMIA, AHIMA chief executive officer said in a released statement that attention must be paid to the complexity of aligning the desires of 300 million Americans with the goals, objectives and needs of our nation’s health care community, 50 state legislatures, governors, Congress and the administration’s healthcare policymakers.”

Kloss added that “while no one should expect fast answers and simple solutions in such a complex environment, much is being done to deliver to Americans an electronic health record system that secures individuals from misuse of personal health information, protects healthcare consumers’ rights and meets their needs when they most need fast, accurate health information.”

Specifically, on a national scale a system should be developed that “uses high, uniform standards of confidentiality and security to protect each health care consumer; does not tolerate the misuse of any personal health information and makes full use of health information technology and standards…,” stated Kloss.