The Obama administration has released a final privacy rule that makes it easier to share the medical history of people undergoing substance abuse treatment in federally funded drug and alcohol treatment programs.
Patients now can sign one consent form allowing their information to be shared by designating the intended recipient, such as the name of the organization or “my treating providers” in certain circumstances, according to a statement by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the HHS agency overseeing the rule making.
The new 292-page rule aims to ease the sharing of information between providers and allow those offering treatment services to successfully transition from fee-for-service to outcomes-based reimbursements.
Patient advocates worried relaxing the 1970's-era regulations would weaken patient privacy and allow records to fall into the hands of employers or law enforcement.
The old rule, 42 CFR Part 2, requires patients to consent every time their data was shared or accessed and was considered much more stringent than HIPAA, the main federal healthcare privacy rule.
HIPAA, for example, does not require patient consent when a data holder discloses a patient's information for treatment, payment and a number of other healthcare operations.
The proposed rule released nearly a year ago, was criticized for not going far enough to encourage record-sharing.
But SAMHSA said the change is intended to allow patients to benefit from integrated health care systems.
SAMHSA began formal steps to amend the original rules, 42 CFR Part 2 back in 2014.
Federal agencies, including SAMHSA, had at one time considered using a technological approach to enhancing data sharing while supporting the more stringent consent requirements of 42 CFR Part 2. That effort, called Data Segmentation for Privacy, has since fallen by the wayside. The SAMHSA moved to relax the consent requirement instead.