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D.C Report: ONC Surveys Consumers on Health IT Privacy, Temporary EHR Certification Extended

November 9, 2011
by Jeff Smith, Assistant Director of Advocacy at CHIME
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Jeff Smith, Assistant Director of Advocacy at CHIME

ONC to Survey Consumers on Health IT Privacy and Security The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is interested in better understanding consumer sentiment on health IT privacy and security. ONC said it will conduct a five-year project to collect consumer attitudes towards the privacy and security aspects of electronic health records, health information exchange and mobile health applications. Specifically, ONC will look “at the percentage of individuals who are concerned about the privacy and security of electronic health records, who report having kept any part of their medical history from their doctor due to privacy concerns, and who are concerned that an unauthorized person would see their medical information if it is sent electronically, among other key measures.” ONC will interview 100 individuals for the pretest survey and then 2,000 individuals per year for five years as part of the main survey to engage consumers and inspire confidence and trust in health IT. In a separate, but related announcement, ONC said it will look more closely at the emerging world of mHealth and other mobile applications. The mHealth Privacy and Security Consumer Research study will “identify and explore the attitudes and preferences…of consumers with respect to the communication of health related information on mobile phones and devices, including text messaging,” ONC said.

Temporary EHR Certification Program Gets Extension by ONC According to an announcement made Thursday in the Federal Register, ONC will delay the launch of a permanent EHR certification program until summer 2012. The temporary program of ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies (ONC-ACBs) was originally intended to sunset in December, but after consulting with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), ONC does not anticipate that there will be a sufficient number of accredited testing laboratories or ONC-ACBs. Currently, ONC has authorized six temporary testing and certifying bodies to approve EHRs and/or EHR modules – and they have certified 1,200 EHRs or modules to date. Instead of ending the temporary program on or around January 1 2012, ONC is suggesting that the sunset of the temporary program be aligned with the expected release date of a Meaningful Use Stage 2 final rule. “We believe aligning the sunset of the temporary certification program with the effective date of this forthcoming final rule would provide certainty to health care providers, EHR technology developers, and other stakeholders, while also ensuring a sufficient number of accredited testing laboratories and ONC-ACBs exist to meet market demand.”

Bill Would Give Providers Legal Protection for Using EHRs On October 21, Congressman Tom Marino (R-Penn.) introduced, HR 3239, a bill to provide certain legal safe harbors to Medicare and Medicaid providers who participate in the EHR meaningful use program or otherwise demonstrate use of certified health information technology. The “Safeguarding Access for Every Medicare Patient Act,” would create a system for reporting potential errors that occur when using electronic records without the threat of that information being used as an admission of guilt. It also prevents electronic records from being used as an easy source for “fishing expeditions,’’ while making sure that parties responsible for errors are held accountable. According to Rep. Marino, his bill will promote EHRs and reduce healthcare costs. As EHRs continue to increase in adoption, this issue will remain on the minds of stakeholders.

NASCIO: Health-Related IT Quickly ‘Overwhelming’ Other State IT projects The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) has released their annual list of top priorities (.pdf) for the coming year. And breaking the top five, is healthcare and health IT-related projects. Key drivers under the fourth top priority for state CIOs in 2012 include the Affordable Care Act, health information and insurance exchanges, health enterprise architecture challenges and Medicaid System alignment. "It comes as no surprise that health care is rapidly becoming a critical component of state CIOs’ workload,” NASCIO officials wrote in its 2011 State CIO Survey (.pdf), which was also published this month. “Information -- on insurance, finances, patients, doctors, hospitals, you name it -- drives healthcare delivery systems and services, and it is quickly overwhelming all other state IT.” Further, the report notes that many CIOs have been quick to engage with healthcare information issues, recognizing the major role they can play. One observer in the survey noted about CIOs and health care, “If they are not there already, they should be.”

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