Government outlines new privacy proposal for health informatics tools

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unveiled a new proposal that would establish new privacy guidelines for electronic medical records (EMRs), reports Reuters.

Under the rules currently in place, healthcare providers are required to keep logs of who accesses a person’s EMRs. These records do not have to be disclosed to the patient. However, If HHS’s new proposal is codified, patients may request lists of the people who have seen their records.

“We need to protect people’s rights so that they know how their health information has been used or disclosed,” said Georgina Verdugo, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. “This proposed rule represents an important step in our continued efforts to promote accountability across the healthcare system, ensuring that providers properly safeguard private health information.”

To obtain a list of who has seen their EMRs, people can file a request for an access report, which features detailed data on who has viewed their information. If the new guideline is established, patients will be able to enjoy an unprecedented level of transparency in the medical record system, as this marks one of the first times that they will be able to learn how their information is being used.

The source reports that the new HHS guidelines are part of a large initiative on the part of the Obama administration to streamline the use of health informatics tools around the country. In particular, the proposed rule stems from the 2009 HITECT Act, a stimulus package that encouraged adoption of EMRs among doctors and hospitals.

According to a study conducted in 2010 by Knowledge Networks, 52 percent of specialists and 50 percent of primary care physicians make use of an EMR system.