MCLU Urges State to Protect Patient Privacy as the New Electronic Medical Records System Expands

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
April 22, 2010 12:00 am

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Augusta — Today the Maine Civil Liberties Union submits public comments to the Maine Health Information Steering Committee on the new statewide Health Information Exchange Plan, which will serve as the blueprint as Maine moves forward with a statewide health information exchange. The public hearing on the “Maine Statewide Health Information Exchange Strategic and Operational Plans” (the Plan) will take place from 1 to 3 pm at Maine Medical Association offices in Manchester, ME.

“Medical information is arguably the most personal and private source of data about us,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Given the risks associated with data breaches and medical identity theft, privacy must be a higher priority as the state unrolls the electronic health information system.”

Maine’s health information exchange (HIE) is operated by Healthinfonet. Healthinfonet allows participating medical providers to access complete medical information about a patient through an electronic database. Over 50% of Mainers are already included in the exchange. Patients may opt out of the system. The MCLU will address serious privacy concerns with the Plan for the HIE, including the likelihood that patients will not have the opportunity to expressly consent to participating in the system and the fear that patients choosing to opt-out of the system will not receive equal medical care.

“Given the electronic nature of the system, it’s not a question of if our private medical information will be breached, but when and to what consequence,” said Brianna Twofoot, Field Director for the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Patients who choose to opt out because of these risks must still be able to get medical care. No one should be discriminated against for choosing privacy over inclusion in the statewide medical records system.”

The MCLU’s testimony asks the steering committee to:

  • Ensure a more robust opt-out option;
  • Enshrine in law protections for patients to continue receiving medical care if they opt out;
  • Protect particularly sensitive health information [mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, HIV/AIDS status, and reproductive health information] by continuing to require written authorization for that information or to institute a more granular opt out process;
  • Identify remedies for health information breach and medical identity theft; and
  • Prohibit the commercial exploitation of health information.

After a public comment period, the Maine Health Information Steering Committee will submit the Plan to federal authorities at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology as a condition of federal funding the state and Healthinfonet will receive for implementation of the HIE.

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