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HIPAA Privacy Rule Can Be Tool for Health Information Exchange

Rather than being a barrier to information sharing and interoperability, the HIPAA Privacy Rule can be seen as a tool to facilitate health information exchange and flow across the health ecosystem, argued OCR and ONC in an Aug. 30 blog post.

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By Fred Donovan

- Rather than being a barrier to information sharing and interoperability, the HIPAA Privacy Rule can be seen as a tool to facilitate health information exchange and flow across the health ecosystem, argued OCR and ONC in an Aug. 30 blog post

The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides individuals with a right to access information in their medical and other health records maintained by a HIPAA covered entity, such as an individual’s healthcare provider or health plan, noted ONC Chief Privacy Officer Kathryn Marchesini and OCR Acting Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy Timothy Noonan.

The authors wrote that the 21st Century Cures Act, enacted in 2016, among other things called for greater individual access to information and interoperability of healthcare records. The act directed HHS to address information blocking and promote the trusted exchange of health information.

“Information blocking occurs when a person or entity – typically a health care provider, IT developer, or EHR vendor – knowingly and unreasonably interferes with the exchange and use of electronic health information,” ONC explained.

ONC and OCR recently began a campaign encouraging individuals to access and use copies of their healthcare records.

The two HHS offices are offering training for healthcare providers about the HIPAA right of access and have developed guidance to help consumers take more control of decisions regarding their health.

These guidelines include access guidance for professionals, HIPAA right of access training for healthcare providers, and the Get It. Check It. Use It. website for individuals.

The authors also noted that the HIPAA Privacy Rule supports the sharing of health information among healthcare providers, health plans, and those operating on their behalf, for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations. It also provides ways for transmitting health information to relatives involved in an individual’s care as well as for research, public health, and other important activities.

“To further promote the portability of health information, we encourage the development, refinement, and use of health information technology (health IT) to provide healthcare providers, health plans, and individuals and their personal representatives the ability to more rapidly access, exchange, and use health information electronically,” they commeted.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH), along with the White House Office of American Innovation, are working to support the exchange of health information and encourage the sharing of health information electronically.

For example, CMS is calling on healthcare providers and health plans to share health information directly with patients, upon their request.

Also, NIH has established a research program to help improve healthcare for all individuals that will require the portability of health information.

The White House’s MyHealthEData initiative, which originated from President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order to promote healthcare choice and competition, aims to break down the barriers preventing patients from having access to their health records.

The executive order directed government agencies to “improve access to and the quality of information that Americans need to make informed healthcare decisions.” The order is part of a broader effort to increase market competition in the healthcare market.

ONC developed a guide intended to educate individuals and caregivers about the value of online medical records as well as how to access and use their information. ONC also produced videos and fact sheets to inform individuals about their right to access their health information under HIPAA.

“It’s important that patients and their caregivers have access to their own health information so they can make decisions about their care and treatments,” said National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Don Rucker. “This guide will help answer some of the questions that patients may have when asking for their health information.”

The agency said that an individual’s ability to access and use health information electronically is a cornerstone of its efforts to increase patient engagement, improve health outcomes, and advance person-centered health.

ONC noted that the guide supports both the 21st Century Cures Act goal of improving patient access to their electronic health information and the MyHealthEData initiative.

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