The American Hospital Association last week directly urged HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to postpone the scheduled April 14 effective date of the new patient privacy regulations to allow hospitals "more time to secure funding for the costs and make a smooth transition to the new standards."
An AHA letter to Thompson accompanied the association's 23 pages of comments on the regulations. The privacy regulations as currently drafted "create barriers to care and are unworkable for patients and caregivers," AHA President Richard Davidson said in a written statement.
Among the AHA's concerns is a HIPAA requirement that patients sign consent forms before hospitals can use their information for administrative purposes. The AHA "suggests permitting hospitals to decide whether and how to obtain patient consent."
The AHA's comments reflect responses from "hundreds of hospitals," as well as state healthcare associations and other advocacy groups, AHA counsel Melinda Hatton said. Some of HIPAA's provisions are likely to interfere with physicians' and nurses' ability to administer care, according to the AHA.
"As the rules currently stand, a nurse walking by a patient in distress may not have ready access to all the information the nurse needs to help because he or she isn't specially authorized to see those records," the AHA said.
In its public statement on the comments it submitted to HHS, the AHA also implied that hospitals' current practices mitigate the need for privacy laws.
The AHA's patients' bill of rights guidelines, crafted in 1973, include "a commitment to ensure that patients receive every consideration of privacy and have appropriate access to records," Davidson said.
The AHA wants the April 14 effective date suspended, Hatton said, but is not suggesting an alternative timeline because "we don't want (HHS) to reinstitute that date until the regulations are fixed."
The public comment period, which started Feb. 28, ended March 30.