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Officials Propose Easing Restrictions on Sharing Substance Abuse Treatment Records


Medical records 6-5-14

Federal officials want to ease restrictions on sharing substance abuse treatment records among healthcare providers, The Wall Street Journal reports. The move concerns some privacy advocates.

Under federal law, substance abuse treatment records cannot be disclosed to anyone without a patient’s explicit consent. The law, which applies to programs that receive federal funds, was designed to reduce the problem of patients avoiding treatment because of a fear of stigma or discrimination. A patient must give their consent every time a record of substance abuse treatment is shared with a doctor or hospital.

The law stands in the way of broad sharing of patients electronic medical records, needed to coordinate care, according to officials at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Obama Administration is providing financial incentives to doctors and hospitals to use electronic medical records to reduce medical errors and duplication, and to lower costs.

Because of the consent rules, many coordinated-care systems exclude drug and alcohol information, instead of seeking patient consent every time medical records are shared. SAMHSA is considering revising consent regulations, so that patients can agree to share their substance abuse treatment records within coordinated-care systems. Patients would still be able to choose not to share their records.

Some privacy advocates say if the consent requirement is weakened, it could increase the risk of public disclosure of information. Many patients are worried it could affect their careers or their ability to obtain life insurance or retain child custody.

Programs that do not receive federal funds are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The law protects medical records from public disclosures, but allows doctors and insurers to view patient records without patient consent.

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