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Proposed rules would prevent release of patient information

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Nov 9, 1999    

Proposed rules would prevent release of patient information

  • Electronically transmitted health information would be protected from disclosure even in situations, such as accidents or shootings, that generate news coverage of emergency care.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued proposed rules that would prohibit hospitals and other health care providers from giving out information on patients except in tightly defined circumstances or when a patient has given permission for the records to be disclosed.

The rules implement the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance and Portability Act of 1996. Because they were intended to address concerns in the law that electronic technology has eroded privacy in identifiable health information, they apply only to information after it has been electronically transmitted.

The rules make no exception for emergency situations, such as a school bus accident or a school shooting in which the public anxiety and need for news would otherwise call for immediate reporting about who has been hurt and how serious those injuries are.

Under these proposals, reporters would no longer be able to routinely gain “directory information” such as the name of a patient, the unit in which he or she is being treated or any description of the individual’s condition, without the patient’s agreement after the information had been electronically transmitted.

The proposed rules would allow a hospital to release this directory information only if an individual is incapacitated and unable to agree to its disclosure, and even in those circumstances, the disclosures would have to be “consistent with good medical practice” and must not violate any preference of the patient known to the hospital.

Comments on the proposals, which appeared in the Nov. 3, 1999 Federal Register, must be submitted to HHS by Jan. 3, 2000.

(Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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