National Standards Established to Protect Patients' Personal Medical Records

Article excerpt

The Nation's first-ever standards for protecting the privacy of Americans' personal health records were announced on December 20, 2000. The new regulation will protect medical records and other personal health information maintained by health care providers, hospitals, health plans and health insurers, and health care clearinghouses.

"For the first time, all Americans--no matter where they live, no matter where they get their health care--will have protections for their most private personal information, their health records," said former Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "Gone are the days when our family doctor kept our records sealed away in an office file cabinet. Patient information is now accessed and exchanged quickly. With these standards, all Americans will be able to have confidence that their personal health information will be protected."

The regulation was mandated by Congress when it failed to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. The new standards: limit the non-consensual use and release of private health information; give patients new rights to access their medical records and to know who else has accessed them; restrict most disclosure of health information to the minimum needed for the intended purpose; establish new criminal and civil sanctions for improper use or disclosure; and establish new requirements for access to records by researchers and others.

HHS received more than 52,000 comments on its proposed privacy rule. The new standards further strengthen patients' protection and control over their health information by extending coverage to personal medical records in all forms--including paper records and oral communications. …