Medical privacy | HIPAA | FTC — According to a legal complaint, CVS pharmacies — the largest pharmacy chain in the United States — did not take appropriate steps to protect its customers’ and employees’ sensitive information when it improperly disposed of documents, labels, prescription bottles, and other items with clearly identifiable and highly sensitive personal information such as SSNs, prescription information, driver’s license numbers, and other information still on those materials. CVS agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle its violations of HIPAA as part of a Resolution Agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services. CVS has also signed a consent agreement with the FTC; the public can comment on this agreement until March 20, 2009. The World Privacy Forum will be filing comments with the FTC on the consent agreement with CVS, which we will post here.
HITSP — World Privacy Forum executive director Pam Dixon was elected to be the consumer representative on the HITSP board (Health Information Technology Standards Panel). HITSP is a national standards-setting body that is part of ANSI (The American National Standards Institute) and is working on specifications and standards for the National Health Information Network. The term will begin in January of 2009.
Human Subjects Research Protection (OHRP) — The World Privacy Forum filed comments with the Office of Human Research Protection urging the office to do more to protect the privacy of people who are subjects of research. The comments urge the OHRP to focus more attention on providing privacy-specific training for boards overseeing research, which are often weak in knowledge about the breadth of privacy issues in research. The WPF also voiced its strong support for certificates of confidentiality for research involving human subjects, stating that “nearly all research that involves identifiable health data or other personal data about individuals should have a certificate of confidentiality unless a researcher can state a substantive reason why a certificate is not appropriate for the study.”
PHRs have been promoted in recent years as being an empowering panacea of benefits for consumers, but there has been little meaningful discussion of the complex and serious privacy issues PHRs can raise. For example, very few consumers know that not all PHRs are protected by HIPAA, the federal privacy rule that applies to medical files held at, for example, hospitals.
In PHRs, important information about privacy procedures and policies is contained in the fine print, and the fine print really matters. That’s because some PHRs are covered under HIPAA privacy protections, but many PHRs are not covered under HIPAA privacy protections. Few consumers understand that their health care files are not always protected under HIPAA when their files are in a PHR.