DMers Expect Minor Impact From New Medical Record Rules

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New medical record regulations issued last month by the Clinton administration established stiff penalties for privacy violations, but healthcare direct marketers believe the rules will have little impact on their industry.

The new rules, part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, will require doctors and hospitals to get written consent before using or releasing a patient's health records. Healthcare providers, including managed care organizations, will be required to keep patients informed regarding how their records are being used and who uses the records.

The new regulations will take effect in two years.

Under the new rules, patients will have the right to access their medical records and may request corrections. Patients will also be entitled to request a "disclosure history" specifying all parties that have accessed their medical files.

The regulations set criminal penalties for intentional disclosure of medical records without consent at up to $50,000 and one year in prison. Disclosing medical data with intent to sell is punishable by up to a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison.

Eileen Boyd, managing director at consulting firm KPMG, New York, said the new rules establish sweeping privacy regulations that, in most cases, will supersede state laws. The rules will require healthcare providers to update their record-keeping systems and to train employees on how to avoid violations.

But Tade Farmer, vice president at healthcare mailing list provider SK&A Information Services, Irvine, CA, said the new rules will primarily affect institutional users of medical data, such as hospitals, HMOs and pharmacies. Medical privacy laws vary from state to state, and many healthcare marketers already operate under stricter rules than those created by the administration.

Steve Smith, president of healthcare marketing consultant Optas Inc., Wakefield, MA, said his company uses only opt-in information received from consumers who volunteer personal data in exchange for information about new products and treatments. He does not expect the new rules to affect his company's operations.

However, Smith said the Clinton privacy rules might affect HMOs that want to use direct marketing in their own compliance programs, which are promotional efforts aimed at encouraging patients to use the medicines prescribed by their doctors.

"We've been approached by HMOs that want to do those kinds of programs," Smith said. "We'll have to think long and hard about that."

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