Murray joins fellow lawmakers in calling for modernization of HIPAA

Sen. Patty Murray  

With public concern rising over the safety of private health information stored on various tech gadgets,  U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is among those calling for the need to modernize the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

“Patients should be able to expect that tech companies are going to use their most sensitive information responsibly and give them the tools they need to be able to control how and when their information is disclosed," Murray said during a recent Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing.

Earlier in the year, Murray called on the Trump Administration to release its policies on disclosure of protected health information.

“If approached correctly, improvements in information sharing can promote coordinated care, help lower health costs, and improve people’s health outcomes; however if done incorrectly it can make patients fearful about how their personal data is used and lead them to withhold important information from care providers or even forego care altogether,” Murray said. “We need to make sure patients are confident their personal information is handled appropriately, and that means making sure any changes to how that information is managed are considered with care, and their consequences fully understood. I’ll be watching how the Administration proceeds on this issue carefully.”

HIPAA was enacted to ensure that health data, which can range from past MRI and x-ray images to patient records, would remain confidential and secure. The act, however, doesn't address the latest tech apps and the potential for sharing health data saved on those apps.

Several organizations, including the Health Innovation Alliance (HIA), are working with Congress to modernize HIPAA. In a Patient Daily article, HIA stressed how health data framework is a priority concern among its staff.

“We care about it because data is the lifeblood of health care," Joel White, executive director of HIA, White said in the article. "With it, we can spot problems and challenges, identify opportunities to lower costs and to intervene at an individual level to improve health and at a population level to improve diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic illness in ways that they really improve patient outcomes. Unfortunately in health care, we’re really laggard around using technology and data to make health care work better.”

White described how technology to better secure health care data does exist, but laws focused on restricting a person’s privacy is a roadblock for that technology to be distributed.

“The challenge is that our laws haven’t kept pace with the technology, and so we’re trying to change the laws and the framework that allow for better privacy, better security around that data, so that consumers can enjoy both the benefits of having their data used to make health care work better, and at the same time enjoy greater privacy and greater security,” White said.

Murray’s office was not available for further comment.

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