Experts say privacy should be primary concern in healthcare IT

There can be little doubt that medical informatics systems have had a profound impact on healthcare in the U.S. However, despite significant improvements to the quality of care facilitated by electronic health records, some officials have expressed concern over a lack of focus on patient privacy, reports Healthcare IT News.

A panel of data security advocates and healthcare experts gathered at the 2nd International Summit on the Future of Health Privacy in Washington, D.C. earlier this week agreed that greater emphasis needs to be placed on the security of patients’ medical records. In particular, the legal ramifications of medical informatics systems need to be addressed.

“Electronic technology is a game changer, legally, because the damage that can be done to someone is perpetual and the damages that can be awarded are incalculable,” said James Pyles, co-founder and principal of law firm Powers, Pyles, Sutter, & Verville, as quoted by the news source.

During the conference, panelists discussed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 and the implications of the legislation for healthcare providers and patients. Joy Pritts, chief privacy officer for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), said a significant challenge faced by healthcare IT experts and clinicians is that technology is progressing faster than legislation can be effectively written.

Pritts added that, as it stands, HIPAA does not clarify the basic definition of privacy or define how patients’ health information should be protected.

According to Kaiser Health News, a series of high-profile data breaches in the healthcare sector have proven that governmental organizations such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) need to be proactive in securing patient data and maintaining adequate privacy protections.

The news source reports that since HIPAA came into effect in 2003, there have been more than 22,000 complaints regarding violations of the legislation’s privacy rules. During a Senate hearing last year, the HHS was criticized for its lax approach to regulatory enforcement.

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