Health And Human Services Revises Patient Privacy Rules

March 25, 2002 ( federal department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a number of changes to its health privacy regulations.

Currently, privacy regulations guarantee patients full access to their medical records, control over the usage and disclosure of their personal information as well as a clear avenue of recourse if their medical privacy is compromised.

HHS Secretary, Tommy Thompson,  said that the organization’s revisions were needed to fix problems within the privacy rules that make it difficult for  patients to get quality care quickly and easily.

A few of the new provisions are designed to:

  • Strengthen notice provisions and remove consent requirements that block access to care. As the rule stands now, patients would have to give consent prior to receiving care. Meanwhile, doctors can refuse to treat patients who have not signed their consent forms.
  • Maintain the ‘minimum necessary’ rule, while allowing treatment-related conversations. The minimum necessary rule protects the privacy of patients by limiting the amount of health information given orally. This new provision intends to allow doctors to continue operating under the rule, but also communicate information about a patient’s condition with other professionals and doctors without fear of violation. 
  • Assure appropriate parental access to children’s records.
  • Prohibit the use of patient records for marketing. 
  • Assure privacy while conducting research. This provision is intended to help out researchers who would need to fill out multiple consent forms to coincide with the privacy rights of patients.
  • Provide model business associate provisions. Under the current rules, businesses including health plans, health care providers and clearinghouses are required to maintain contracts with their business associates to adhere to privacy rules. This provision aims to make it easier for businesses to implement contract provisions and ease the cost involved to do so.
  • Simplify authorizations to allow for a single authorization form to obtain a patient’s permission for a specific use or disclosure of their health information.