WASHINGTON (AP) — Those medical privacy rules you run into at hospitals, pharmacies and in your own doctor's office are getting an update.
Regulations unveiled this week by the Obama administration create new information rights that should make life easier for consumers. They also tighten restrictions on medical service providers trying to use patient information for marketing, and they greatly expand the list of businesses that can be punished for unauthorized disclosures.
"The government has taken pretty dramatic steps to strengthen privacy protections that previously existed for consumers," said Dianne Bourque, a Boston lawyer specializing in medical regulation. The long-awaited rules carry out a 2009 law promoting electronic medical records and updating federal privacy protections.
On the privacy front, doctors will now have to get prior approval from patients to pitch new medications or medical devices if those pitches are being paid for by a drug company or manufacturer.
For example, sometimes a pharmaceutical company will pay doctors to send all their heart patients a letter about a new medication. It may not be readily apparent to the patient that the drug company is compensating the doctor for sending the update.
The rules also create new rights for consumers.
For instance, you should find it much easier to get your medical records electronically instead of on paper. Up to now, some doctors and hospitals have been able to avoid providing records electronically by saying they don't have the capability.
"They won't be able to default to, 'Sorry, we can't send this to your home (computer) system; we have to give you a paper copy,'" said Susan McAndrew, a government lawyer who oversaw the regulations at the Health and Human Services Department.