House Passes Health IT Bill

Patient privacy advocates bemoan the lack of protections in the health information technology bill passed in the House of Representatives.

Patient privacy advocates are bemoaning the lack of protections in a health information technology bill passed by recorded vote in the House of Representatives July 27.

Two committees had originally passed slightly different versions of the bill, now called the Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006, leading to months of delays. A Senate version of the bill passed in 2005.

The bill makes permanent the Office of the Health Information Technology Coordinator, calls for a demonstration program to provide health IT grants to small physician offices and sets forth procedures to update information standards. It also seeks to eliminate some anticorruption legislation that prevented hospitals and other entities from donating technology to doctors.

/zimages/2/28571.gifA new program called Common Ground is seeking to create unity in how IT is implemented in public health departments. Click here to read more.

Previous versions of the bills would have pre-empted some state privacy laws. However, the current version simply requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop "model policies" for privacy and security and how current laws interfere with such policies. The current version of the bill states only that it complies with the .

But privacy advocates argue that this bill should itself include protections. A coalition of 13 of the nations top consumer and patient organizations sent a letter to Congress on July 26 warning that the bill would do little to promote health IT and would instead undermine consumer confidence.

"Without basic privacy protections built into the legislation up front, Congress will create an electronic superhighway system for others to misuse, data mine and steal the nations medical records," said Deborah Peel, chairman of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, which is not part of the coalition but shares many of its goals. "Maintaining the status quo equals zero patient privacy."

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society urged representatives to vote for the bill on July 26, calling it a "critical step toward realizing the presidents goal of electronic health records for most Americans."

But Linda Kloss, head of the American Health Information Management Association, has acknowledged shortcomings, although she praised the bill overall. "This bill provides valuable support for some of the initial building blocks of the NHIN. While no single piece of legislation can possibly address all of the issues related to adoption of health information technology, this is a strong step in the right direction," she said in a statement praising the bill last year.

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