On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finalized rules that will make it easier for individuals and organizations to share their medical records with third parties, and will permit individuals to request copies of their medical information.
The rules, which will be enforced starting next year, were created to improve patient privacy, but the FCC has made clear that the changes are more about protecting patients than their health.
In an open letter sent to members of Congress in early February, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the rules would ensure “access to accurate information in the healthcare industry, including through health data.”
The letter called for the Federal Trade Commission (FCA), the agency charged with enforcing federal privacy law, to “adopt a similar approach to its existing policy.”
The letter also outlined a set of “essential public interest” exemptions for medical records that would allow the disclosure of certain health information, such as a patient’s medical history and symptoms.
In addition, the letter states, the rules will allow medical records to be shared with “federal agencies” that are “authorized to make use of the information in an emergency or otherwise to protect the public health or safety, or to investigate crimes or violations of law.”
In an interview with NBC News, Pai said, “We’re moving to a world where all of our data is in the hands of the public.
And so it’s going to be more accessible to the public and less private, and it’s more available to the health care providers.”
The FCC also said it would make it a crime to use the medical records of someone who is not a licensed physician to make a comparison of a patient with a different patient or someone who does not have a license to practice medicine.
The FCC is also proposing to establish a “health information management” framework that would require doctors to collect and share their patient information in order to treat patients and prevent harm.
The rule will go into effect in the coming weeks, and many healthcare organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Nurses Association (ANA), American College of Physicians (ACP), American Medical Students Association (AMSA), American Society of Internal Medicine (ASIM), American Psychological Association (APA), and American Society for Transplantation and Oncology (ASOT) have all signed on to support the proposal.
Pai has previously claimed that he believes the rules are necessary to protect privacy, and that he does not believe the government should have access to people’s medical records.
“We do not need to have the government telling us what to do with our health information,” Pai said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“The problem with this is that the government can now access your health information and use it for all kinds of purposes,” he added.
Pipelines to HealthcareThe FCC’s decision to adopt a policy that will allow individuals and entities to request access to medical records comes after a series of controversial pipeline regulations passed by the US Congress last year, including one that would have required states to create health records database.
The Trump administration initially blocked the rule, but in late March the administration changed course and said it wanted to revise the rules to allow states to request the records.
Ahead of the FCC’s final rules, the US Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York challenging the FCC rules.
In a brief filed on Friday, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers argued that the FCC is “undermining” a key provision of the Communications Act of 1934, which protects “privacy in the marketplace” and “confidentiality in the communications industry.”
Pai also argued that it is “premature” for the FCC to enact rules that could have “serious consequences for the free exchange of information and ideas.”
The American Medical Associations has also been working to repeal the “essential privacy” rule.
In June, the AMA announced that it would be joining forces with the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Nursers Association in a “civil rights and privacy coalition.”
“It’s not just about medical records, it’s about our ability to communicate and work with one another, and to make informed decisions,” Dr. Jonathan Gruber, a leading medical ethicist, told CNN.
“There are some pretty critical issues here, and we need to work together.”