ACMI warns Roe v. Wade reversal could impact records privacy

The professional health IT association is concerned that authorities could access information in EHRs, apps when enforcing new abortion restrictions.

An organization representing healthcare IT pros is raising concerns that the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning the Roe V. Wade decision on abortion services may affect the privacy of patients’ medical records.

The American College of Medical Informatics released a statement warning that the decision could put long-standing privacy protections at risk.

ACMI is a college of elected fellows from the United States within the American Medical Informatics Association.

Several other professional medical associations, including the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, have also issued statements voicing concerns about how the high court’s ruling will affect healthcare services.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services has provided privacy guidance on when healthcare entities can legally withhold patient information related to abortion services. The guidance relates to inquiries from law enforcement services and other third parties.

EHR data access risks

Potential approaches to enforcing states’ anti-abortion mandates pose a risk to long-time commitments to keeping patients medical records private, ACMI contends.

“Electronic health records represent the major repository of confidential health information in the U.S. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protects the confidentiality of a patient’s health information,” ACMI notes. “Such records, however, can still be subject to release for certain purposes, including via subpoena for legal proceedings. Information about one’s health or health-seeking behavior obtained or stored by individuals or organizations that do not fall in the categories protected under HIPAA.”

In enforcing stricter laws banning or limiting abortions, authorities might also seek other data that could violate privacy, ACMI says.

“Healthcare apps, websites, search behavior, geo-tagged data about one’s location and more are subject to even fewer protections and can often be accessed more easily,” the statement notes. “Prosecutorial misuse of health data has grave consequences for the sanctity and trust inherent in the therapeutic relationship between patients and their healthcare practitioners.

“Violating this trust will cause immediate and future harm for all parties – not just those receiving care for reproductive health.  A proactive, considered, and deliberate approach to safeguarding digital health data is a prerequisite to safe care for all."

The statement concludes with a commitment by ACMI to seek ways to protect patients’ medical information. “In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and the current and ongoing actions from many state legislatures, ACMI seeks to ensure that privacy-protective policies governing the use of health and health-related information be put in place so that repercussions resulting from the Supreme Court decision do not impinge on the rights of individuals and on their relationships with the professionals they entrust with their care.”

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