Healthcare Privacy

On Where Health IT and Privacy Meet

By K Royal, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

The Eighth Annual National Health IT Week kicks off today with the slogan, “One Voice. One Vision: Transforming Health and Care.” This honorary week has been created by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). HIMSS seems to lead efforts similar to the IAPP, even if the mission is different, and there is no doubt that our membership overlaps. HIMSS states that last year, more than 250 organizations participated in the week’s activities, which were also recognized by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate.

The National Health IT Week specifically highlights events, legislation, policy and individuals related to health information technology. For example, last week HIMSS hosted a webinar on HIPAA/HITECH—mHealth and IT infrastructure: Strategies for Mobile Compliance. Mobile privacy is a large concern across the privacy community, e.g. the FTC with its mobile privacy report, the recent Forbes report on teens taking measures in mobile privacy; TRUSTe’s mobile privacy survey results, and the position of the EU regulators on mobile privacy. HIMSS is recognizing individuals for their contributions to health IT, such as Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Marilyn Tavenner, administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with others. 

I was interested to see what companies and organizations are doing to recognize this week. One that really stood out to me is the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), which hosted a consumer forum today “to equip and empower patients to better manage their health in a digital era.” AirStrip, a mobile healthcare leader, announced it is acting as a partner in the National Health IT Week, but I could not see what it is actually doing at its own company. I imagine though that there is quite a bit of internal recognition given the focus of the company specifically on mobile healthcare. Similarly iPatientCare, a medical informatics company, is also participating in the week’s recognition. Other companies and organizations have released press announcements indicating their support and awareness of this week.

Interestingly, this year is the second year HIMSS has focused on a ‘blog carnival”—encouraging members to blog about the week, their involvement and policy support. It is being hosted this year by Brian Ahier, who encourages individuals to write about the value of health IT sometime this week, and he will review and publish them on ahier.net. He specifically discourages sales pitches. I am eager to see what the week’s posts will look like. Ahier’s post today is “Analytics: Realizing the Value of Health IT.”

So that brings us to the question of what is the value of health IT?

Some of the leading topics in health IT include telehealth, informatics, electronic records and mHealth. Telehealth resonates particularly with me as a nurse. I once wrote a paper about a doctor in New York who performed a cholecystectomy on a patient in France using robots and the Internet. This is not the everyday application of telehealth (telesurgery) but was one that truly captured my interest, pinged my risk-averse nature and intrigued my innovative side. Most often, telesurgery is conducted in the same room to take advantage of the intricate movements mechanics can make that are beyond human hands. But telehealth in general is being used to treat patients at a distance, making medical expertise immediately available where it otherwise would not be—saving lives, intervening earlier and enabling medical care to be mobile and near-instantaneous.

A while back, I read an article about cardiac implants that send information back to the manufacturer who then sends it to the patient’s doctor. But this patient did not have a doctor, so the information went nowhere. And when the patient tried to get her own information from the manufacturer, they would not release it to her because they were under no legal mandate to do so. I know the article is out there somewhere—nothing is ever truly lost online—but I could not locate it in the deluge of information, although I found a related article about a patient’s campaign for rights to raw data from his implant.

For HIMSS this week, they are highlighting three policy priorities:

These are three fascinating topics of which each one could carry a blog alone. There are so many other topics out there, but I respect the three HIMSS has chosen as priorities for this year. I do see tremendous value in health IT—frankly, we could not advance without it. But what we need are realistic controls around it that include all of the key stakeholders.

We need education. Oftentimes, the programmers or scientific geniuses who create the tools that collect or generate health IT are not educated in individual privacy or data protection. So there need to be partnerships—we need these geniuses. We need this technology. We need appropriate policy. We need intelligent and compassionate awareness of data use.

If your organization is celebrating this week, let us know. How do you see it correlating with privacy? What do you see as the biggest challenges? Can there be “One Voice, One Vision?”

More from K Royal

About the Author

K Royal, CIPP/US, CIPP/E, is privacy counsel at Align Technology and has over 20 years of professional experience in the legal and health-related fields. Royal has a particular interest in the relationship between health and technology—such as telesurgery, bioethics and privacy. As an attorney, she has been recognized as a Forty-under-40 honoree for Phoenix, as an educational leader through the YWCA and as one of the top pro bono attorneys in Arizona. Royal is currently an in-house global privacy counsel and finishing her PhD in public affairs.

See all posts by K Royal

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