Genetic privacy | SACGHS — The World Privacy Forum filed extensive comments with the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health and Society (SACGHS) regarding its draft report on genetic testing oversight, U.S. System of Oversight of Genetic Testing: A Response to the Charge of the Secretary of HHS. The World Privacy Forum requested SACGHS pay more attention in its final report to the privacy consequences of unregulated genetic testing that occurs outside the health care sector. The WPF comments note that current and proposed remedies for the misuse of genetic information tend to focus on the use of the information within the health care treatment, payment, and insurance systems. What is crucially important is to analyze how to protect genetic information in the realm of commercial collection, maintenance, use and disclosures. Another area the comments discuss is the potential for new forms of fraudulent activity related to genetic testing (Phantom genetic testing, that is, genetic tests marketed to consumers that are not even real or viable genetic tests.) The World Privacy Forum specifically recommended that the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics be tasked with looking at this matter, that an independent pre-market assessment mechanism is created for genetic tests offered outside the clinical setting, and that privacy be expressly discussed in the overarching recommendations in the final report.
Announcement | CalPSAB — WPF executive director Pam Dixon has been appointed by California Secretary of Health and Human Services Kim Belshe to the California Security and Privacy Advisory Board. Dixon will serve as interim co-chair of the board, which is tasked with addressing health information exchange (HIE) privacy and security efforts in California. The board’s meetings will be open to the public.
NHIN update — The National Health Information Network, or NHIN, is part of a major undertaking to digitize and network the health care sector. From electronic health records to multi-state health information hubs, the U.S. government’s goal is to modernize and move health care information from paper to digital. The Department of Health and Human Services is the primary mover behind this initiative, which is complex and multi-faceted. The World Privacy Forum keeps a chronology of NHIN events as a public service. The NHIN timeline has been updated to reflect changes in AHIC, a group that is charged in part with ensuring privacy and confidentiality in the NHIN and other aspects of health care modernization. AHIC is set to transition to a “public-private partnership,” a move that will need to be watched closely to ensure robust consumer involvement.
AHIC successor | health care privacy — The World Privacy Forum offered public comments on HHS’ American Health Information Community (AHIC) successor plans, urging that HHS adopt a “no stakeholders left behind” policy as it forms the new public/private AHIC. The Forum’s analysis of the AHIC Successor White Paper concluded that the current succession plans lack processes and checks that would ensure meaningful consumer participation, and that the AHIC successor plans as they currently stand do not bode well for a robust role for privacy or consumer groups in the new AHIC. Specific issues the World Privacy Forum discussed in its comments included fee structures, membership, handling conflicts of interest, stakeholder issues, privacy and identifiability issues, and the need for the new AHIC to achieve credibility.
In June, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) published a request for information about its plan to create a “public/private” national database of healthcare information tentatively called the “National Health Data Stewardship entity.” WPF and EFF raised questions about ownership and management of the proposed database (Would this database fall under HIPAA? Would it fall under the Privacy Act of 1974?), questions about identifiability of patients in the database, and suggested that a full-time, independent privacy officer should be established for the program from the inception of the planning stages. The comments also discussed the numerous questions relating to data security (including medical identity theft) and data quality, as well as consent, access, and opt-out procedures for patients that the proposed national database raises. Read the joint comments (PDF)