A patient with a chronic or complex medical condition is under the care of a primary care provider and several specialty care providers in different health systems. She is required to sign and return consents to each health care provider to make sure her health care team can get the information needed from other providers. This unfairly places the burden of coordinating medical information on patients and families, adding to the stress of being ill or of caregiving.

An emergency medical services (EMS) provider responds to a patient and is transporting him to a hospital. Without first obtaining the patient’s consent, the EMS provider has difficulty obtaining feedback from the receiving hospital that could inform treatment on the way to the hospital and improve outcomes for the patient.

Parents of a new baby change health care providers. Because previous health records are not shared, the baby must undergo duplicative tests, X-rays and needle sticks that are distressing to both baby and parents.

Patients want and expect their health information to be shared with their care team for the delivery of quality health care. Yet, the Minnesota Health Records Act (MHRA) is more restrictive than the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and doesn’t allow for the kind of sharing that is needed in these examples.

Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems take seriously their obligations under HIPAA. Federal regulations, including HIPAA, the HITECH Act and the Omnibus Privacy Rule, govern when, where and to whom health information can be shared. These federal laws carry serious civil and criminal penalties when their requirements are not met. We terminate employees for not protecting personal health information as required by law.

A broad coalition of 60 Minnesota health care organizations and, most important, consumers has been advocating for years that MHRA should align with federal laws and standards that govern health data privacy practices, as is the case in 48 other states. That’s why we are supporting an updated state law, under which caregivers could access potentially lifesaving information needed to deliver the best care possible. This would also lead to higher patient satisfaction and lower health care costs by reducing duplicative procedures and tests.

Yet, state Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, in her March 13 commentary, “Minnesota bills would cut patient privacy,” argues to make MHRA more restrictive than it is. This would impede patient care and increase health care costs.

The bill that our coalition supports (HF 831/SF 1575) amends MHRA to align with federal laws and allows clinically appropriate exchange of information for purposes including treatment, payment and health care operations.

Aligning MHRA to HIPAA would help avoid duplicative procedures while facilitating informed decisionmaking about care and treatment. Our current system assumes “no” when patients and families expect “yes.” And, the ability to share health information with permitted entities like health care providers, insurance carriers and care coordinators is critical in helping consumers and lawmakers reduce the cost of care.

 

Kevin Croston is CEO of North Memorial Health. Ken Holmen is president and CEO of CentraCare Health. David Herman is CEO of Essentia Health.