Review: Balancing health privacy, health information exchange and research in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Review: Balancing health privacy, health information exchange and research in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

Review: Balancing health privacy, health information exchange and research in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

This article discusses proposed changes to privacy regulations to allow for less-restricted health information exchange.

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges to the United States health care system. To safely care for patients, health information must flow across provider platforms seamlessly. Given that patients are likely to interact with multiple providers, their health information is fragmented into different systems (e.g., telehealth screening, “drive-through” testing, laboratory testing, primary care follow-up, hospitalization). This complex process requires safe, secure, and standardized health information exchange. Unfortunately, current state and privacy regulations create barriers to providing effective health information exchange. Immediate action is necessary to ensure regulations preserve patient privacy while balancing continuity of care. Additionally, loosening borders of anonymization and changing the definition of what constitutes protected health information may allow for more data scientists to access cellular geolocation information, for example, to assess the effectiveness of various prevention strategies such as social distancing,  contact tracing, and testing strategies.

The current state of emergency declared by the president allows the secretary of health to waive, or override, some federal (e.g., Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA]) and state regulations through a Stafford Act declaration. To enact the efficiencies of rapid communication of health data during a pandemic, three considerations must be addressed when considering the legal barriers of health information exchanged:

  • Enactment of HIPAA’s complete federal preemption of all other data sharing and consent laws
  • The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) should create a Safe Harbor business associates agreement (BAA) that covered entities and other supporting organizations can rapidly adopt for health information exchange about COVID-19
  • The OCR should issue guidance to clarify that there is no requirement for minimal information in exchange of data for care of patients as noted in HIPAA

Finally, utilizing better tools for contact tracing to study the transmission during the pandemic is essential. Taiwan successfully slowed transmission of the virus, likely in part because of its ability to link medical records of COVID-19 patients to their cellular devices to obtain histories of their movement. Then, individuals who came into contact with a known infected person were informed through their devices that they should self-quarantine and obtain testing if symptomatic. This approach is currently being tested in Israel.

|2020-04-15T16:40:33-04:00April 9th, 2020|COVID-19 Literature|Comments Off on Review: Balancing health privacy, health information exchange and research in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

About the Author: Maria Brann

Maria Brann
Dr. Maria Brann, PhD, MPH, is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and affiliate faculty with the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University. She explores the integration of health, interpersonal, and gender communication. Her translational focus and mixed methods approach are woven throughout her health vulnerabilities research, which advocates for more effective communication to improve people’s health and safety. Her primary research interests focus on the study of women’s and ethical issues in health communication contexts and promotion of healthy lifestyle behaviors to improve personal and public health and safety. She researches communication at both the micro and macro levels and studies how communication influences relationships among individuals and with the social world.

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