Proposal To Ease Access To Medical Histories Draws Concerns

By Britni de la Cretaz 09/29/17

Advocates are concerned that the proposal to relax privacy protection might discourage people with addiction from seeking treatment.

Doctor and patient reviewing a medical history form.

As the Trump administration’s federal commission to address the opioid crisis moves forward with proposing and implementing solutions, one proposed policy is drawing ire from recovery advocates.

The commission has suggested loosening patient privacy regulations in order to make it easier for providers to access entire medical histories, allowing it to be more apparent whether a patient has a past history of opioid misuse or addiction.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has introduced legislation that would expand privacy regulations to bring them in line with the more wide-ranging disclosure of information between providers allowed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA, and which also doesn’t require written consent from patients. The Opioid Commission, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, had a similar recommendation in the report they released in August.

This report stated that, while the privacy regulations are “well-intentioned patient protections,” they serve as “a barrier to communication” between providers and limit the ways in which family members can be involved in a person’s treatment. Therefore, the report recommended, regulations should “be changed to permit the sharing of this type of information among health care providers and the loved ones” of those struggling with addiction because otherwise, “drugs with high abuse liability may be prescribed” to people with opioid use disorder.

However, STAT News reports that a new coalition of over 100 advocates and addiction treatment organizations is preparing to challenge the proposed change. Paul Samuels, director of the Legal Action Center, told STAT that everyone shares the same goal of ensuring that people have access to the best treatment possible if and when they need it. However, he stresses the “need to balance that goal with the equally important need of maintaining essential confidentiality protections, so people’s privacy rights are not violated and they seek treatment.”

Advocates are also concerned that the loosening of these regulations are not just unnecessary, but could actually discourage people with substance use disorders from seeking treatment.

“Maintaining the enhanced privacy protections for substance use disorder treatment is essential, not just to protect the privacy of substance use disorder patients in this age of constant data breaches, but also to make people who need treatment feel safe enough to go into treatment,” Samuels told STAT. “We need to do everything possible to encourage people to enter care, not scare them away.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
britni headshot.png

Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.