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EHRs: A Crisis of Consumer Confidence?

September 19, 2008
by Reece Hirsch
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On Wednesday, September 17, the Government Accountability Office ("GAO") released a report on the progress that the Department of Health and Human Services has made in ensuring that electronic health record privacy concerns are addressed. The title of the report says it all -- "HHS Has Taken Important Steps to Address Privacy Principles and Challenges, Although More Work Remains." The report follows up on previous GAO recommendations from a January 2007 study.
The GAO acknowledged that HHS has made progress on some fronts, such as the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel's standards for implementing security features in health IT systems. However, the report notes that HHS has fallen short in several important areas, such as developing a defined process for assessing and prioritizing privacy-related initiatives with respect to EHRs. It seems to me that GAO is charging that HHS has failed to see the forest for the trees thus far when it comes to addressing consumer privacy concerns. Most notable is the following warning from GAO: "the department [HHS] may miss an opportunity to establish the high degree of public confidence and trust needed to help ensure the success of a nationwide health information network." GAO recognizes that this is a critical juncture for the development of EHRs and a nationwide HIT network, and that addressing consumer privacy concerns is the one of key barriers to moving forward.

Some, such as Pete Stark, who proposed a broad new HIT bill on Monday, would argue that federal legislation is the answer ....

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Comments

Can you remind us what the GAO's charter is?

Joe The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the "congressional watchdog," GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars (including dollars related to HIT initiatives).

The stated mission of the GAO is "to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people."

Reece Hirsch

Partner, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

Reece Hirsch's Health Care Privacy Law Blog offers a lively commentary on a wide range of...