Online privacy and security are important issues to the general public, and that makes them a big deal to Washington pols and federal officials. So it was a little curious to see the lack of any response by the Obama administration's health IT leadership team to damning inspector general reports on security failings.
Privacy and silence
The HHS inspector general's office released two audit reports on May 17 that questioned the department's commitment to digital security in health information technology. The reports outlined failings by both the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Office for Civil Rights in their responsibilities to protect patients' electronic information.
Later that same morning, Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology, Aneesh Chopra, the federal government's chief technology officer, and Joe McCannon, a senior adviser to CMS Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick, gathered at a Washington think tank to talk electronic health records. They reviewed many of the promises and challenges of quickly expanding the use of information technology in the healthcare sector but strangely privacy and security concerns were not part of the discussion.
Mostashari even noted during his closing comments that the “critical” subject of the protection of patients' electronic data was not addressed at the morning-long discussion. And then he moved right along to other subjects.
The findings also failed to draw any official response from the White House, which only the day before was touting a new electronic privacy legislative proposal. However, that measure explicitly exempts electronic health data vendors from its protections, according to descriptions provided by the administration.
The audits echoed longstanding concerns of privacy advocates that the federal electronic health record push creates massive vulnerabilities for patient data because it backloads most of the privacy protection requirements toward the end of a rulemaking process than ends in 2015.
You can follow Rich Daly on Twitter @mhrdaly.
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