Practice Economics

HHS releases tools for patient consent to share data electronically


As more medical practices exchange patients’ health information electronically with hospitals and other providers, physicians have a new problem on their hands: how to explain the process to patients and gain their consent to share the information.

Federal health officials have developed some tools – including customizable patient videos – that aim to simplify the process by creating a standardized explanation of the data exchange process and patient options for sharing their medical information.


Physicians and health care practicioners may have difficulty explaining the electronic health records process to patients and gaining their consent to share the information.

The effort, known as meaningful consent, deals specifically with information shared through health information exchange organizations (HIEs). These third-party organizations help health care providers in several ways, including directly exchanging information and orders, allowing providers to request specific patient information, or allowing consumers to aggregate their own data online to share with specific providers.

While state laws and regulations create a patchwork of different requirements for when patient consent is required to release information for treatment, federal officials are encouraging physicians to develop a "meaningful consent" process that includes education about how the information is shared, gives patients time to review the educational materials, and allows them to change or revoke their consent at any time.

The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recently conducted a pilot project to test the use of tablet computers to educate patients about their options in sharing information through an HIE. The project, which was completed in March 2013, found that patients were most interested in who could access their information, whether sensitive health information would be shared, how the information would be protected from misuse, and why it needed to be shared at all.

"As patients become more engaged in their health care, it’s vitally important that they understand more about various aspects of their choices when it relates to sharing their health in the electronic health information exchange environment," Joy Pritts, ONC’s chief privacy officer, said in a statement.

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