ONC Submits Data Security Report to Congress

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The adoption of health information technology has potential to expose patient data and can easily result in breaches of HIPAA regulations. On 2nd October, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) published a report to congress providing advice and recommendations on how new technology can be utilized in healthcare and how the secure exchange of health information can provide considerable patient benefits.

The report, entitled Update on the Adoption of Health Information Technology and Related Efforts to Facilitate the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information, provided information on the barriers that are hindering the exchange of health information together with suggestions on how the federal government can take action to remove some of those barriers. ONC listed ‘Privacy and Security Protections for Health Information’ as one of its key building blocks to ensure smooth integration of IT in healthcare to ensure patient data privacy rights is protected.

Congress was provided with a reminder of the Health and Human Services department’s (HHS) role and that it should advise on matters of data privacy and security, as well as assist with the development of data management policies. The HHS should be looking at new technologies which can be used to exchange health information and conduct risk assessments and analyses to find potential vulnerabilities and suggest strategies for minimizing those risks.

It should produce and distribute the materials necessary to facilitate the education of stakeholders on the importance of a coordinated group effort to maintain the privacy of patient health data. It has been recommended that it offer multimedia tools and technical assistance to make it easier for stakeholders to conduct data security risk assessments.

The HHS must also coordinate its efforts with other government departments on a state, regional and national level and take a global view on the privacy of health information and cybersecurity matters. The report also used statistics on data security, privacy and breaches compiled by the Office for Civil Rights from 33,000 HIPAA complaints that it resolved.

OCR took the opportunity to highlight the efforts it has made in the area of data security and privacy. It has produced government sanctioned forms for download and use as templates for privacy practices. Organizations can download and use the forms and distribute them under HIPAA privacy rules to notify patients of their PHI privacy rights and the privacy practices employed by the organization in question.

It also made reference to its cyber security risk assessment tool for identifying potential vulnerabilities. The risk assessment tool can be used to identify areas requiring improved security measures to enable action to be taken to meet the requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.

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