HHS proposes privacy regulations changes

July 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson has announced proposed changes to HHS health privacy regulations that would correct unintended consequences that threatened patients' access to healthcare.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has announced proposed changes to HHS health privacy regulations that would correct unintended consequences that threatened patients' access to healthcare.

"The President believes strongly in the need for federal protections to ensure patient privacy, and the changes we are proposing today will allow us to deliver strong protections for personal medical information while improving access to care," Thompson said.

The federal privacy regulations guarantee patients full access to their medical records, give them more control over how their personal information is used and disclosed, and provide a clear avenue of recourse if their medical privacy is compromised.

Secretary Thompson said the proposed revisions are needed to fix problems with the previously published rule that otherwise could make it more difficult for patients to get quality care quickly and easily. The proposal also strengthens and clarifies the rule's marketing restrictions.

The proposal includes the following revisions:


•Â Strengthen notice provisions and remove consent requirements hindering access to care.


•Â Maintain the "minimum necessary" rule, but allow treatment-related conversations.


•Â Ensure appropriate parental access to their children's records.


•Â Prohibit use of records for marketing, while allowing appropriate communications.

"These are common-sense revisions that eliminate serious obstacles to patients getting needed care and services quickly while continuing to protect patients' privacy," Thompson said. "For example, sick patients will not be forced to visit the pharmacy themselves to pick up prescriptions - and could send a family member or friend instead. Doctors will be able to consult with nurses and others involved in a patient's care to ensure that they get the best care."

Health and Human Services proposed federal privacy standards in 1999 and, after reviewing and considering more than 52,000 public comments on them, published final standards in December 2000. In March 2001, HHS received more than 11,000 comments after Thompson requested additional public input on the rule. Those comments and other public input were used to develop the proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register (vol. 67, no. 59) with a 30-day comment period. The department will consider public comments on the proposed changes before issuing a final rule. PR

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