Personal Health Record (PHR)

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.

Pam Dixon’s keynote speech on medical identity theft at the AHIMA National Convention

Medical identity theft is a crime that harms people and it is a crime that hides itself. This combination makes medical identity theft an insidious crime. It can cause extraordinary damages and harms to its individual and institutional victims. And once begun, the harmful effects of this crime can linger in the lives of its victims for years or even decades.

World Privacy Forum responds to June 2007 NCVHS recommendations to the Secretary of HHS regarding health care information at non-HIPAA covered entities

Medical privacy | NCVHS | HIPAA — The World Privacy Forum has sent a letter to Dr. Simon P. Cohn, Chairman of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics, supporting the Committee’s formal conclusion that all entities that create, compile, store, transmit, or use personally identifiable health information should be covered by a federal privacy law. More needs to be done about health care data that is left unprotected by HIPAA. The Forum’s letter included a discussion of two HHS programs that operate outside of HIPAA: FDA RiskMAPS, and the National Institutes of Health, which is not a covered entity under HIPAA.

Update: World Privacy Forum’s National Health Information Network Timeline

National Health Information Network — Recently, the first live prototypes of the NHIN were demonstrated in Washington, D.C. This was a milestone event in the development of the planned network. The National Health Information Network is an ambitious project the U.S. government undertook in 2004 to digitize and network patient health records across the nation. This project raises challenging confidentiality, privacy, and security issues.