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Patients Gain Protections In Health Information Technology Law

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Patients across the United States will benefit from new health information technology (HIT) law providing comprehensive privacy and security standards for patient records including strong, protective provisions for psychotherapy records. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the economic stimulus package, was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama.

The HITECH Act builds on the federal government's current efforts to encourage the development of a national interoperable, electronic health records network with the goal of providing improved patient care at lower cost. The core of the HITECH Act contains provisions to ensure records privacy and security as HIT develops. The Act will:

* Provide for an ongoing process for setting standards to better ensure that privacy and security are protected in the health care system

* Incorporate Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule standards, where possible, including with regard to psychotherapy notes and other sensitive patient information

* Improve upon the HIPAA “minimum necessary” standard, which requires that only the minimum amount of patient information can be disclosed depending on the request for the information

* Implement further restrictions on health care plan use of patient records for administrative “health care operations” purposes

* Allow a patient to pay privately for health care and not have his or her records included in an electronic network

* Implement a process to explore segmenting particularly sensitive patient records (such as mental health records)

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* Provide a notice to the patient when privacy is breached

* Examine technologies to help patients track how their records have been disclosed

* Contain new strong patient enforcement measures and strengthen existing HIPAA enforcement measures

* Require Health and Human Services to study expanding the HIPAA psychotherapy notes authorization requirement to include mental health testing data

* Make psychologists eligible for funding provisions in the law to implement health information technology into their practices and to join into electronic networks in their communities

* Preserve stronger state privacy laws and allow the continued application of state consent provisions

* Require a study for providing for patient consent in electronic records systems

* Protect the well-established psychotherapist-patient privilege currently recognized under federal and state law, and

* Provide for continued Congressional oversight to ensure the bill's privacy and security standards are effective.

The HITECH Act is the most comprehensive HIT legislation introduced by Congress and represents a giant leap forward for psychologists and their patients, achieving strong patient records privacy and security protections.