Posted by Frank Torres
Director, Consumer Affairs 
 

Last month the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sought public input on guidelines the agency is developing for technologies that companies and organizations should use to safeguard consumers' electronic health records, and on mechanisms for notifying  consumers if the privacy and security of their health data is compromised. Microsoft, as well as other stakeholders in the health world, filed commentswith HHS yesterday.

In addition to proven security technologies such as encryption, we recommended that HHS support technologies that render data unreadable or unusable to unauthorized individuals. We also commented that when there is a security breach that consumers need to know about, the notice should be sent to the user through whatever contact information the user provides. In some cases an individual may only provide an e-mail address and not a street address or phone number, for example.

Establishing guidelines to keep electronic health records more secure is critical to build consumer trust in health IT and, in turn, to enable the widespread adoption of health IT that will make health care more affordable and effective for everyone.

Yesterday's deadline for responding to the HHS request for information is an early step in the agency's key involvement in setting the rules that will govern federal investments in health IT through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The decisions made by HHS will carry great weight in determining what technologies your doctors and health care providers are encouraged to use, thanks to federal incentives, to improve the quality and availability of care you receive.

Two major challenges for those drafting the HHS recommendations are to ensure that innovation is allowed to thrive, and that consideration is given to the specific ways technology is used by both consumers and health care providers.  That way, consumers will be better protected, but also enabled to benefit from new and evolving technologies selected by their health providers.

President Obama and Congress are looking to technology to improve the nation's health care system for everyone. This is an exciting time and the decisions HHS is preparing to make are critical to allow promising new solutions to help solve some of the major challenges facing the health care system today.