Health IT Bill Hits House

Lawmakers stress privacy to build patient confidence in health systems. 

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Hoping to bridge the gap between the call for national IT health care systems and privacy concerns, two lawmakers are promoting new legislation that would mandate user opt-in programs, encryption and breach notification.

The Technologies for Restoring Users' Security and Trust (TRUST) in Health Information Act (H.R. 5442) would establish a public-private partnership to recommend health IT standards and criteria for exchanging electronic data and to encourage the creation of a nationwide interoperable health information technology infrastructure.

"The spread of health IT holds tremendous promise for improving patient care, reducing medical errors and lowering costs," U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, who introduced the bill along with Rep. Rahm Emanuel on Feb. 14, said in a statement. "But this dream could quickly turn into a nightmare for consumers without sufficient privacy and security safeguards to protect personal medical records from unauthorized access."

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According to the legislation, consumers would be able to keep their medical records out of health IT systems unless they first give their consent. It also requires that patients be notified in the event of a system breach and to be informed what records were potentially exposed in the breach.

In addition, the bill authorizes grant funding for the purchase or upgrade of health IT systems in addition to requiring security safeguards.

"As medical records and patient histories become electronic, phrases like 'security,' 'privacy' and 'access' should become just as important as 'take two of these and call me in the morning.'" Emanuel said.

Microsoft, which rolled out a software and services platform last October aimed at connecting physicians, patients and their records across a unified platform, was quick to praise the legislation.

"It represents an important step in strengthening the safety of consumers' health information and we support the bill's goals of ensuring personal privacy, security and confidentiality with respect to health related information," Frank Torres, Microsoft's director of consumer affairs, said in a statement.