SAMHSA Gets Public Feedback on Patient Consent Rules and EHRs

June 12, 2014 in News

On Wednesday, federal officials held a meeting to discuss easing regulations that define patient consent regarding drug and alcohol misuse treatment information to better accommodate the use of electronic health records, Modern Healthcare reports.

More than 440 people attended the meeting virtually and another 115 registered to attend in person (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 6/11).

Under current regulations — which were last updated in 1987 — federally assisted substance misuse programs can only share patients’ personal health information with 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.

Treatment records from other health care settings, as well as information shared verbally with a doctor, are subject to HIPAA, which prevents medical records from being shared publicly. There are certain exemptions that allow physicians, insurers and certain other groups to view patient records without consent (iHealthBeat, 6/5).

Meeting Details

During the hearing, some participants called for the complete elimination of regulations protecting patients of federally funded drug and alcohol misuse programs, while others argued that the rule’s protections should be expanded to cover all electronic patient information.

For example, Mary Jean Mork, a program director at MaineHealth, said she supports the total repeal of the substance misuse patient privacy rule because of the barriers it creates. However, she noted that if the rule cannot be repealed, her organization would support changes that better align with HIPAA.

Meanwhile, Catherine O’Neill, senior vice president of the not-for-profit Legal Action Center, said the HIPAA privacy regulations are “insufficient” for drug and alcohol misuse patients. She added that the heightened protections of the patient privacy rule “are as critical today as they were 40 years ago,” especially because “stigmatization and discrimination remain a real possibility” if alcohol and substance misuse treatment data are released.

However, Susie Mullens, a program director with First Choice Health Systems, said the industry should leverage health IT to help providers comply with the law’s current requirements.

Similarly, Jeff Chang — project manager at PCE Systems, a Michigan-based EHR developer — urged SAMHSA to create clear guidance to help developer comply with the requirements and provide physicians with clear specifications on how to disclose information that patients wish to share (Modern Healthcare, 6/11).

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