Federal Rules Limit Data Sharing on Patients’ Substance Misuse

May 12, 2014 in News

Federal privacy regulations are hindering the sharing of health data about patients with substance misuse issues, according to a federal notice from HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Modern Healthcare reports.


Under current regulations — which were last updated in 1987 — federally assisted substance abuse programs can only share patients’ personal health information with substance abuse treatment centers if:

  • A patient gives his or her express consent; or
  • There is a medical emergency.

The regulations limit the data sharing of a variety of health care organizations, including:

  • Accountable care organizations;
  • Coordinated care organizations; and
  • Health information exchanges.

Details of Federal Notice

According to the SAMHSA notice, “significant changes have occurred within the U.S. health care system that were not envisioned by these regulations, including new models of integrated care that are built on a foundation of information sharing to support coordination of patient care.”

Because of the restrictions on health data sharing, some patients do not fully benefit from available treatment models, according to SAMHSA.

The agency is working to change regulations to allow patients better access to coordinated care, while still ensuring that their personal health data are protected.

According to Modern Healthcare, some of the fixes that SAMHSA is considering include:

  • Allowing patient consent to include a broader description of the individual, organization or health care provider to which disclosure is made; and
  • Requiring that patients are given a list of health care providers or organizations that can access their personal health data and that patients are regularly notified of changes to that list.

SAMHSA plans to hold a public meeting on June 11 to seek stakeholder feedback before beginning the rulemaking process to adjust the regulations (Dickson, Modern Healthcare, 5/9).

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