Secure Electronic Health Records One Step Closer

An interesting perspective on U.S. electronic health records' interoperability and security is available from the blog of Dr. John Halamka, CIO and dean for Technology of Harvard Medical School, who chairs the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP). The panel approved its latest set of recommendations last Friday for HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and the American Health Information Community (AHIC). Halamka, an emergency physician, has posted his own personal health records in two formats on his "Life As a Healthcare CIO" blog (http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com/2007/12/standards-for-personal-health-records.html), which he notes is not a HIPAA violation because he consented to the disclosure. Besides revealing some family history, recent vaccinations, and an allergy, the records show Halamka had an RFID chip implanted in 2004, which he describes as a similar disclosure of personal data.

ANSI on Dec. 17 touted the HITSP recommendations as a key step in fulfilling President Bush's call for widely available, interoperable electronic health records by 2014. "I believe that patients should be assured that their confidentiality is protected while they are receiving the highest quality care possible," Halamka said in the ANSI release. "The HITSP is identifying the standards and specifications that will help patients become stewards of their own personal health information."

About 400 organizations representing consumers, health care providers, public health agencies, government agencies, standards development organizations, and other stakeholders participate in HITSP, which ANSI sponsors. Once approved by AHIC, the recommendations then go to Leavitt. Included are: 1) accessible clinical information may include medication history, lab results, current and previous health conditions, allergies, summaries of health care encounters, and diagnoses; 2) real-time or near-real-time feedback regarding quality indicators and contraindications for specific patients; and 3) an emergency responder electronic health record will give on-site emergency care professionals, medical examiner/fatality managers, and public health practitioners needed information regarding care, treatment, or investigation of emergency incident victims.

HITSP approved on Oct. 15 a set of standards and specifications that will help to keep patients' medical information secure in an electronic environment.

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