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Statement by Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary Department of Health and Human Services

Statement Regarding the Patient Privacy Rule

April 12, 2001

 

Today, I am pleased to announce that the President is taking a bold and definitive step to protect the rights of citizens to keep their medical records confidential.

President Bush wants strong patient privacy protections put in place now. Therefore, we will immediately begin the process of implementing the patient privacy rule that will give patients greater access to their own medical records and more control over how their personal information is used.

We have laws in this country to protect the personal information contained in bank, credit card and other financial records. Our citizens must not wait any longer for protection of the most personal of all information � their health records.

This rule makes sure that private health information doesn�t fall victim to the progress of the information and technology age, where an array of data is readily available in computer systems and too often just a keystroke way from being accessed. We are giving patients peace of mind in knowing that their medical records are indeed confidential and their privacy is not vulnerable to intrusion.

The President considers this a tremendous victory for American consumers, who will continue to receive high-quality health care without sacrificing the confidentiality of their private health matters.

This town has been debating patient privacy for the better part of a decade, and President Bush believes it is now time to act and protect patients.

As you know, during the past two months, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House have met with and listened to a broad and diverse group of lawmakers, interest groups, health care leaders and individual citizens regarding the patient privacy rule.

Our department has received more than 24,000 written comments on this issue. My staff has expedited the review of these comments as they have come in and generally found that most of the submissions broke down into similar categories. In fact, thousands of the comments were clearly part of mass mailing efforts in support of a particular view or concern. And I want to thank my staff for working hard to review these comments and pave the way for a decision this week.

We will keep these comments in mind as we continue to make sure patients receive the highest quality care and begin the process of issuing guidelines on how this rule should be implemented. The guidelines will allow us to clarify some of the confusion regarding the impact this rule might have on health care delivery and access. And we will consider any necessary modifications that will ensure the quality of care does not suffer inadvertently from this rule.

For example, to address some of the concerns raised in comments, we will make it clear through guidelines or recommended modifications that:

  • Doctors and hospitals will have access to necessary medical information about a patient they are treating and they will be able to consult with other physicians and specialists regarding a patient�s care. Certainly patients want their doctors to make the most informed decisions possible about their care and treatment.
  • Patient care will be delivered in a timely and efficient manner and not unduly hampered by the confusing requirements surrounding consent forms. For example, pharmacists will be able to fill prescriptions over the phone and serve their customers in a timely manner.
  • And, parents will have access to information about the health and well-being of their children, including information about mental health, substance abuse or abortion.
The President believes this patient privacy rule will deliver strong and long overdue protections for personal medical information while maintaining the high quality of care we expect in this great nation.

We appreciate the President�s leadership and courage in tackling a very complex and difficult issue that this town has wrestled with for too long. It�s another example of how this President is going to be decisive and take bold action to address the concerns of the American people.

As a result of President Bush�s decisive action today, our citizens finally will have the peace of mind of knowing their health records are safe and protected.