Will Federal Rules Governing the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Records Be Changed?

By John Lavitt 02/15/16

According to Secretary Burwell the focus of the proposed changes is to modernize existing rules to protect patients.

Will Federal Rules Governing the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Records Be Changed?
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing changes to the rules that govern the confidentiality of substance use disorder records. According to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the proposed changes would facilitate health information exchange by supporting the reform of the delivery system between different medical providers. The goal also is to continue to protect the privacy of patients seeking treatment for a substance use disorder.

The proposed revisions specifically will be made to the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulations, 42 CFR Part 2. The specific outlining of these regulations can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is an agency that falls under the umbrella of HHS.

Published in the Federal Register on February 9, 2016, the focus of the changes is the modernization of the existing rules. Given that new treatment models are built on a foundation of information sharing to support coordination of patient care, there needs to be the development of an open electronic infrastructure for managing and exchanging patient data. Such a reform will help with performance measurement while providing quality improvement of treatment services within the health care system. 

“This proposal will help patients with substance use disorders fully participate and benefit from a health care delivery system that’s better, smarter and healthier, while protecting their privacy,” explained Secretary Burwell. “We are moving Medicare, and the health care system as a whole, toward new integrated care models that incentivize providers to coordinate and put the patient at the center of their care, and we are modernizing our rules to protect patients.”

Often referred to as “Part 2” and developed in 1975, the current rules governing the confidentiality of substance use disorder records were developed during a time when there was a tremendous amount of fear. People thought that such information might be used in criminal prosecutions. Without promising the confidentiality of such records, clinicians thought individuals would be deterred from seeking needed treatment.

With the goal of ensuring that patients with substance use disorders have access to new integrated health care models without adverse consequences, Secretary Burwell is proposing these changes as part of the administration’s overall drug initiative. It is important to note that HHS welcomes public comment on the proposed changes, and such comments can be submitted by using one of the methods outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Comments will be vetted by SAMHSA and must be received no later than 5pm on April 11, 2016.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.