Feds Divided On Protecting Patient Data - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Software // Enterprise Applications

Feds Divided On Protecting Patient Data

A new GAO study is critical of U.S. Health and Human Services' lack of a clearly defined strategy to bring all data privacy efforts together.

As the United States moves toward building a nationwide interoperable health information highway, a new government report reveals that U.S. officials are in disagreement about the best approach to protect the privacy of health data.

In a Government Accountability Office report released on Thursday, the GAO says that while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a number of "collective initiatives" to address key privacy issues, there's no clearly defined strategy to bring all those efforts together in protecting the privacy of electronic patient data.

In its report, the GAO recommends that HHS "define and implement an overall privacy approach that identifies milestones for integrating the outcomes of its initiatives, ensures key privacy principles are fully addressed, and addresses challenges associated with the nationwide exchange of health information."

But the report reveals that HHS officials bristled at those recommendations, arguing that the department has a "comprehensive and integrated" approach for protecting privacy and disagreeing about a need to identify milestones.

In the GAO report, HHS commented that "tightly scripted milestones" would impede the department's processes and inhibit dialogue among the stakeholders of a national health IT network about policy matters.

The nation's health IT czar--Dr. Robert Kolodner, who is interim national coordinator for health IT and reports to U.S. health and human services secretary Michael Leavitt--says both HHS and the GAO agree on the need for a secure health IT network.

"There's no disagreement that privacy and security be built in," he says. However, he admits that there is an "honest differences of opinion" between the GAO and HHS, especially regarding the issue of milestones. Kolodner says that milestones in privacy initiatives should be established as the work to build a nationwide health information highway evolves. That's because HHS is relying on input from many stakeholders, such as state and local governments, about privacy needs that must be met along the way. "I liken it to Lewis and Clark--during their journey when they came across a mountain, they didn't know if there was another mountain or a river on the other side," he says. "We believe this is a journey that no one had ever done before as well," he says.

Kolodner says he reiterated that analogy to members of Congress a hearing on Thursday discussing health IT.

The GAO report, titled "Health Information Technology: Early Efforts Initiated But Comprehensive Privacy Approach Needed for National Strategy," was in response to a request by the U.S. Senate for GAO to describe the steps HHS is taking to ensure privacy protection within a nationwide health IT network.

It's been three years since President Bush set out the goal for most Americans to have interoperable, electronic health records by 2014.

Kolodner says he feels confident that the nation will meet Bush's goal. "We are focused on delivering that," he says.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Commentary
Get Your Enterprise Ready for 5G
Mary E. Shacklett, Mary E. Shacklett,  1/14/2020
Commentary
Modern App Dev: An Enterprise Guide
Cathleen Gagne, Managing Editor, InformationWeek,  1/5/2020
Slideshows
9 Ways to Improve IT and Operational Efficiencies in 2020
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  1/2/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
The Cloud Gets Ready for the 20's
This IT Trend Report explores how cloud computing is being shaped for the next phase in its maturation. It will help enterprise IT decision makers and business leaders understand some of the key trends reflected emerging cloud concepts and technologies, and in enterprise cloud usage patterns. Get it today!
Slideshows
Flash Poll