Sen. Cardin: Sensitive Health Info. – Drug Abuse, Abortion, Depression – Will Go Into Electronic Health Records, But Access Restricted

By Nicholas Ballasy | January 18, 2010 | 6:36 PM EST

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

( - Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said that sensitive information about a patient’s medical history, such as mental illness, abortion, or drug abuse would be put into their electronic health record (EHR) but “only be accessed if that information is necessary or the patient wants it to be accessed.”
Senator Cardin made his remarks on Jan. 11, when he presented a $650,000 ceremonial check to Maryland’s Community Health Integrated Partnership (CHIP) in order to implement an Electronic Patient Record System (EPRS) at nine Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in Maryland.
Maryland’s system is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, popularly known as the economic stimulus package of 2009, as well as money provided through a recently enacted omnibus appropriations bill.
The economic stimulus package “requires doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to create an Electronic Health Record (EHR) for every American by 2014 or face deductions in their Medicare payments.” 
After the event, asked Senator Cardin, “As far as the specific information that will be on the electronic health records, will patients be able to opt out of personal medical information being included, like drug abuse, for example, abortions, mental illness, things like that?”
Sen. Cardin said, “The interesting thing is, it’s easier to protect personal privacy with electronic records than paper records. We have permanent records of anyone who access electronic records -- we don’t for paper. So, we can develop, we already have developed the privacy and blocking issues so that information that’s not necessary for a particular provider is not made available, and we protect against any abuses of people accessing records who shouldn’t.” then asked Cardin, “If personal information like that, like abortions or drug abuse are currently on the paper records, will that be transferred to the electronic records with or without patient permissions?”
Cardin said, “Sensitive information is put into your electronic file in a way that it can only be accessed if that information is necessary or you want it to be accessed.”
The $787 billion economic stimulus law of 2009 specifically says that the database will include “an electronic record of health-related information on an individual that -- (A) includes patient demographic and clinical health information, such as medical history and problems lists; and (B) has the capacity -- (i) to provide clinical decision support; (ii) to support physician order entry; (iii) to capture and query information relevant to health care quality; and (iv) to exchange electronic health information with, and integrate such information from other sources.”
These records--including a person’s “medical history and problems list”--must be put into a national system that allows for “the electronic linkage of health care providers, health plans, the government, and other interested parties to enable electronic exchange and use of health information among all the components in the health care infrastructure in accordance with applicable law,” reads the law.
The Mayor of Capitol Heights, Md., Darrell A. Miller, said the state will be reviewing whether patients can opt out of including sensitive information on their electronic health record.
“At this point, they’ll be reviewing that,” he told  “I’m not totally sure as to their rights and responsibilities when it comes to everything they’ll be able to opt out on. I think they are still working through that, but they will be going by the federal guidelines.”
In response to the same question, Congressman Patrick Kennedy told back in September that it will be up to the individual to decide what goes on his electronic medical record.
“So what’s going to happen is this is going to be someone’s--people’s opportunity to choose, because they are going to know there are safeguards, and  I think over time they are going to get more and more comfortable that this is in the best interest of them and their personal health,” said Representative Kennedy.
“But absolutely, we are going to make sure that’s it’s all up to the individual, because we are not going to get widespread adoption if people don’t feel that their privacy is protected,” he said. “Privacy is the cornerstone of making sure this thing works.”