NASW Backs Patient Privacy

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


NASW joined more than 30 organizations in the Coalition for Patient Privacy in sending a letter to Congress advocating for the inclusion of privacy safeguards with any funding given to implement health IT systems in the proposed economic stimulus package.

In the letter, the bipartisan coalition welcomed the renewed commitment in Congress to protecting consumers over special interests, but stressed that privacy safeguards must be in place, as Americans must trust that their health information is secure in order for a health information infrastructure (HIT) network to be successful. The coalition asked Congress to “A.C.T.” by providing accountability for access to health records, control of personal information and transparency to protect medical consumers from abuse.

The coalition released the letter at a Jan. 14 news conference.

“Social workers know from practice experience that consumers will not divulge critical and highly personal health information to health professionals unless they are assured their information will be kept private by their treating clinician,” Jim Finley, NASW Senior Government Relations Associate, said at the news conference. “Repercussions from the release of personal health information can have critical ramifications with family members, employers and insurance plans.”

NASW supports the development of a national interoperable HIT network because it offers the possibility of improved care for clients and patients, Finley explained. At the same time, NASW believes it is crucial that such a network include comprehensive statutory protections for the privacy and security of consumer health records.

Other organizations in the coalition agree that privacy is essential to health IT adoption and participation.

“Only with proper privacy safeguards in place will the American people get behind the shift to health IT systems,” said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU senior legislative counsel.Michelle De Mooy, national priorities associate of Consumer Action, said that privacy protections must be at the center of health IT to protect Americans from losing their medical privacy or becoming victims of identity theft.

NASW’s press release backs privacy principles that acknowledge a patient’s right to health information privacy and security; provide for a right of consent that protects the patient while being workable in a health care network; and provide for a records process that can separate specific information on mental health, addictions and other highly sensitive patient diagnoses and treatment histories. NASW also wants privacy principles to permit a patient to pay privately for health care and not have his or her records included in the network; ensure that all key health care professionals are encouraged to implement HIT into their practices through incentives provided in the legislation; and preserve stronger state laws and the psychotherapist-patient privilege now recognized under federal and state law. Additionally, NASW supports strengthening Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule standards to the fullest extent possible, especially with regard to protection of psychotherapy notes and other sensitive patient information.