HIPAA

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Consents for Disclosure

Under HIPAA, if a consumer wants to authorize a covered entity to disclose her records, she will usually be obliged to sign an authorization form. The HIPAA rule prescribes the content of the authorization form and its scope. That rule provides some protections because it makes it harder for a consumer to unknowingly sign a form authorizing the disclosure of health records. For example, if a consumer signs a one-sentence form authorizing anyone with records about the consumer to disclose the records to the bearer of the form, it is unlikely that any doctor or hospital would or should honor that form.

Personal Health Records: PHRs and Privacy Policies

For a non-HIPAA covered PHR, the privacy policy becomes a key document, if it is available. The privacy policy of a PHR vendor may tell consumers how the vendor plans to use personal information. It is possible that a commercial or advertising-supported PHR will do a good job of protecting its clients from uninformed or casual disclosures of personal or health information. It is also possible that a cautious client will not be able to evaluate a PHR vendor’s policy or practice.

Personal Health Records: Conclusion

PHRs that operate outside of HIPAA can negatively affect the privacy interests of consumers in various ways. The best to hope for is that a PHR will not make privacy significantly worse. However, it is not likely that even that weak standard can be met. The existence of electronically available and centralized health information outside the traditional health care system will attract new users and create new risks. The mere adding of health records to a PHR vendor’s files may undermine existing privacy protections of old records. Security is a concern for any electronic records. A consumer’s ability to control the disclosure of PHR records can easily be compromised. The consumer’s ability to correct errors in PHR records may be problematic. Advertising support may not meet a PHR’s profit goals unless at least some consumer information is available for close targeting of ads. Promised PHR privacy protections may vanish overnight if the privacy policy is changed.

Briefing Paper – Responses to Medical Identity Theft: Eight best practices for helping victims of medical identity theft

Version 1: October 16, 2007   The World Privacy Forum, as part of its ongoing in-depth research into medical identity theft issues and responses, has outlined 8 best-practice responses to the crime by the health care sector. These best practices are based on interviews with victims, providers, and other stakeholders. These 8 best practices are

Public Comments: World Privacy Forum files comments on CMS plan to allow release of patients’ protected health information from Medicare database in some circumstances; benefits do not outweigh the risks

Medicare – CMS — The World Privacy Forum filed extensive pubic comments on the substantive changes to the Medicare database release policy that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed in a System of Records Notice. As it currently stands, CMS is planning to release the individually identifiable protected health information of patients in the Medicare database to third parties in some circumstances. CMS has not established strong enough checks and controls on its release policy, and it has not explained how it is able to do this under HIPAA. The comments state that CMS has an obligation to explain how each routine use in its new policy is consistent with the authority in the HIPAA privacy rule. If a routine use allows disclosures that are broader than those permitted by HIPAA, then the routine use must be narrowed so that it is consistent with HIPAA. The comments also note that nothing in the CMS notice discusses substance abuse rules and other legal restrictions of the protected health data. The World Privacy Forum asked CMS to specify that the qualifications of any data aggregators who may potentially receive the data exclude any entity that sells other consumer data for any general business, credit, identification, or marketing purpose.