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.
We particularly note the Committee’s observation that the non-covered entities “may even sell personal health information without authorization for the purpose of marketing or other purposes that consumers may find objectionable.” The World Privacy Forum agrees with the Committee, and believes that the use of identifiable patient health care information for marketing is a disturbing possibility. New institutions are being developed and implemented to exploit gaps in HIPAA that allow use of patient data for marketing purposes. Action to close those gaps is needed urgently. The Committee’s letter is a small step in that direction.
National Disaster Medical System | Privacy Act of 1974 — The World Privacy Forum has filed public comments with the Department of Health and Human Services requesting that its new National Disaster Medical System protect all patient information to at least the baseline protections that HIPAA affords, including the HIPAA security and privacy protections. Currently, the new system does not do this, even though the system is housed at HHS, the agency which promulgated the HIPAA standards. The National Disaster Medical System currently contains overbroad routine uses which could potentially result in significant privacy and even public health issues. For example, public health information will not be able to be disclosed under the National Disaster Medical System as the system is currently organized. Additionally, some of the current routine uses in the system would authorize disclosures that would be illegal under HIPAA. For example, Congressional disclosure of a HIPAA record requires a written authorization, something the new system does not require.
AHIC – National Health Information Network — The American Health Information Community Workgroup on Confidentiality, Privacy and Security requested public feedback regarding its working hypothesis. WPF responded to the request with public comments encouraging the adoption of a unified policy architecture and encouraging AHIC to focus on enforcement mechanisms that are intended to directly benefit consumers. WPF also encouraged AHIC to look comprehensively at the demands a new national electronic health exchange network will make on privacy in the health care sector.
information will expand greatly in the future. In public comments filed with the National Institutes of Health on pharmacogenomics (PGx) research, or research using genetic information to create highly personalized medicine, the World Privacy Forum recommended that all research activities that involve any type of patient-specific genetic information be required to have certificates of confidentiality, whether that information appears identifiable or not. The WPF also urged the NIH to require strong data use agreements to protect individuals’ privacy. The WPF also urged NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services to reinstate the position of “privacy advocate” so as to provide oversight in this area.