New Rules Designed to Give Americans More Secure Digital Access to Medical Records

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The Trump administration announced two new rules Monday it said are designed to give Americans greater and more secure digital access to their own private medical records.

The Health and Human Services Department detailed the finalized rules on a conference call with reporters Monday.

One rule mandates that health providers give patients electronic access to their health records at no cost and requires the information to be secure. The other rule requires secure exchanges of records among health providers, and orders third-parties to verify their privacy policies before they can receive any information.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters the moves are aimed at protecting what works in the U.S. healthcare system and allows Americans to easily take their records from doctor to doctor. Under the changes, patients will be able to download records onto a smartphone app and physicians will be required to provide access points. All providers must be compliant within two years.

"Americans' health records are shackled by a broken system," said Azar, who added that current rules are "maddening" to "harmful" to patients' health. "Many Americans know how frustrating health records can be today. I'm the director of health and human services and even I have struggled to get my health records."

Azar said the new access will allow patients to make better healthcare decisions. Don Rucker, national coordinator for health information technology, said it will be up to the patient how much data they share.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, used as an example vacationers on cruise ships who are under quarantine due to the coronavirus. If the new rules were available now, she said, those people could provide health workers with detailed data -- which would lead to better treatment decisions.

While a shift to electronic records raises a number of security and privacy concerns, Verma said there is technology in development that resolves those worries.

"Privacy and security are paramount," Verma said. "These tools ensure that [health] plans and [app] developers have the technical tools they need to build secure application interfaces."

The American Hospital Association responded Monday by saying the rules are improvements, but fall short of fully guarding patient records.

"[They fail] to protect consumers' most sensitive information about their personal health," the group said. "The rule lacks the necessary guardrails to protect consumers from actors such as third party apps that are not required to meet the same stringent privacy and security requirements as hospitals."

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