MEDICAL PRIVACY: HCFA Limits Home Health Data Collection
HCFA will scale back efforts to collect data on the nation's 4 million home health care patients in response to concerns by privacy advocates and elected officials, the Washington Post reports. The agency will limit its efforts to patients "whose care is paid for by the federal government," and has promised to perform a "comprehensive review of the privacy issues" by the time the program is rolled out April 26. The Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS), announced last month, would have surveyed all home health care patients to determine "if they have attempted suicide or exhibited 'socially inappropriate behavior' and also touched on personal finances, such as whether patients could afford their rent." The Post reports that the policy shift was spurred in large part by criticism by Vice President Gore and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). HCFA Deputy Administrator Michael Hash said, "At the request of the vice president, HCFA has agreed to do a comprehensive review of the privacy issues related to the new proposal. ... We appreciate Representative Markey's concerns and agree that we must explore new ways to protect patient privacy, such as speeding up the encryption of data and eliminating the use of identifiable data for non-Medicare and non-Medicaid patients" (O'Harrow, 4/1).
In related news, a raucous debate exploded in the Oklahoma House yesterday after an amendment was added to a medical records access bill that would allow doctors accused of malpractice access to a plaintiff's entire medical file. The original bill, SB 751, would have "allowed the doctor's attorneys to obtain 'relevant medical records'" via subpoena, but an amendment approved 77-21 broadened the scope of the bill to include all patient records. The revised bill was approved 91-9. Bill author state Rep. Opio Toure (D) blasted the amendment, saying it would allow a doctor sued over a broken leg to obtain "records related to Pap smears." The amendment, sponsored by state Rep. John Sullivan (R) and backed by the Oklahoma Hospital Association, will likely kill the measure's chances for success when it returns to the Oklahoma Senate, the Daily Oklahoman reports (Hinton, 3/31).