$1.2 billion available to fund digital healthcare records

By Angela Moscaritolo

June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 21, 2009 at 12:31 PM EDT

Nearly $1.2 billion in grants are available to hospitals and health care providers to help facilitate the transition to electronic health records, the White House announced Thursday.The grants are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) that was signed into law by President Obama this February."Expanding the use of electronic health records is fundamental to reforming our health care system," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sebelius was quoted as saying. "Electronic health records can help reduce medical errors, make health care more efficient and improve the quality of medical care for all Americans.”Dominique Levin, EVP of Marketing and Strategy for log management vendor LogLogic told SCMagazineUS.com on Thursday that there are security and privacy concerns of the move to digital healthcare records. “Hospitals are now targeted by insiders and professional criminals trying to access to health information for financial gain,” Levin said.But ultimately, computerized healthcare records could reduce costs, result in easy back-ups and data recovery, and actually, improve security, Levin said. “Electronic healthcare records can be more secure than paper records,” Levin said.For example, companies can implement technologies that keep a record of everyone that has accessed the records – something they can't do with paper records, Levin said. Meanwhile, this week the HHS and FTC issued rules requiring healthcare organizations and other entities that interact with personal health records (PHRs) to issue notifications in the event of a data breach. Both rules were created as part of the ARRA.The HHS interim final rule, issued Wednesday, requires healthcare organizations subject to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations to notify individuals whose information has been breached, when the breach affects more than 500 individuals, according to a news release put out by the HHS. Breaches affecting fewer than 500 individuals, must be reported to the HHS annually. The rule also applies to business associates of healthcare organizations. “This new federal law ensures that covered entities and business associates are accountable to the Department and to individuals for proper safeguarding of the private information entrusted to their care,” Robinsue Frohboese, acting director and principal deputy director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) was quoted as saying. “These protections will be a cornerstone of maintaining consumer trust as we move forward with meaningful use of electronic health records and electronic exchange of health information.”A similar final rule issued by the FTC this week requires web-based entities that collect consumers' health information, including vendors and online applications that interact with personal health records (PHRs), to issue notifications if a breach occurs. The HHS and FTC regulations will both become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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