AAOHN, ACOEM endorse privacy legislation

A bill that aims to protect the privacy of patients has gained support from two major occupational health organizations, with both saying the legislation could prevent employers and others from having unnecessary access to a worker’s records.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) in Arlington Heights, IL, and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) in Atlanta have endorsed legislation introduced by Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah). Bennett’s Bill 881, known as "The Medical Information Protection Act of 1999," is intended to protect individuals against abuse of their confidential health information.

ACOEM president Robert J. McCunney, MD, and AAOHN president Deborah V. DiBenedetto, RN, COHN, issued a joint statement saying the bill would help occupational and environmental health professionals protect patients’ privacy and ensure public trust.

The bill includes provisions that would prohibit these breaches:

1. Inappropriate access to health records at the workplace, which could result in employment decisions based on health information (i.e. termination due to psychological counseling for depression);

2. Release of confidential information to inappropriate parties for third party gains (i.e. marketing firms, pharmaceutical companies).

The proposed confidentiality bill also would give individuals the right to access their own health records, require individual consent for disclosure of health information, with few exceptions, and enforce civil penalties and criminal sanctions for illegal disclosures.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1995, Congress is required to adopt federal standards ensuring the confidentiality of individual health information by Aug. 21, 1999. Failure by Congress to do so will trigger the Secretary of Health and Human promulgate regulations by Feb. 21, 2000.