Health Care Provider Organizations Urge HHS to Ease HIPAA Rule on Patient Record Confidentiality
In a letter sent to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson last week, 88 health care provider organizations asked the agency to ease a HIPAA regulation that would require providers to remove 20 identifying characteristics from patient records. The letter said that the rule would make patient records "useless for much epidemiological, health services and other population-based research." The letter adds that many of the characteristics -- such as patient zip codes, ages and dates of service or admission -- do not "facially or directly identify an individual" and are "often necessary" for medical research. The letter asks HHS to modify the regulation to require providers to remove only "direct identifiers" -- such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers -- from patient records. According to the letter, the proposed revision would reduce the "chilling effect" of the regulation on medical research. In addition, the letter said that the proposed revision would offer an incentive for researchers to remove direct identifiers from patient records used in research, which would "enhance confidentiality." The American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and a number of other provider organizations signed the letter (AHA Web site, 2/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.