New bill seeks universal privacy standards, to ease IT equipment donation

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Last week the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) put forward a bill (HR 4157) which would grant the HHS the ability to develop new national medical privacy standards and make it easier for doctors to accept donations of IT equipment.  
   
Under the requirements of the bill, the HSS would be tasked to investigate the way state privacy laws and standards for data transmittal impact how medical data are communicated. The bill would expect a speedy return, and in a year and a half a decision must be made as to "whether state and federal privacy laws should be conformed to a single set of federal standards," according to a summary of the bill.

In the event that new universal standards are needed, Congress would be required to put them in place within three years. Alternately, the HHS could develop a uniform system for health information privacy and security. In addition, the HHS will be required to put in place transaction standards as well as billing codes.
   
As for doctor IT donations, "hospitals, group practices and other entities to provide physicians with hardware, software or [IT] training and support services that are used primarily for the electronic exchanges of clinical health information," says the summary. The bill also makes it clear that hospitals and other donors could not put limits on the use of the technology or keep doctors from connecting to other IT systems.
   
The bill would apply HHS technology standards or certification procedures to the donated systems and would also grant HHS three years evaluate the impact of the "safe harbors" for IT adoption as well as "any impact it has had on business relationships between providers," according to the bill.

The Johnson-Deal bill also would task the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology at HHS, David Brailer, MD, PhD, with maintaining and modifying as needed "a strategic plan to guide the nationwide implementation of interoperable health [IT] to improve healthcare quality, reduce medical errors, increase efficiency of care and advance the delivery of appropriate evidence-based healthcare services," the bill states.