17 Mar Law removes barriers to patient data sharing in Wisconsin
Madison, Wis. — Governor Jim Doyle signed into law Senate Bill 487 to make it easier for healthcare providers to share patient data, particularly in the case of patients with mental illnesses.
The law relaxes privacy restrictions in chapter 51 of the Wisconsin statues that apply to information shared without written consent from a patient or their legal representative. Previously, health care providers could release items such as name, address, date of birth, date of service, diagnosis and medications to other providers in a related health care entity – such as providers in the same health plan. Now, diagnostic test results and symptoms can also be shared without written consent, and they can be shared between unrelated providers.
The new law also allows providers to pass along information they received from those who treated the patient previously to subsequent providers.
The State of Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services worked for more than 18 months with privacy advocates, health information officers, providers, technology experts and consumers, attempting to maintain appropriate privacy protections while breaking down barriers to electronic health information exchange.
“The enactment of this law is a ‘big deal’ in that it gets barriers out of the way for exchange of healthcare information,” DHFS Secretary Kevin Hayden said.
“Stakeholders were very engaged in the process,” he added. “There was very practical heavy lifting to build consensus before the bill was introduced in the current legislative session. We listened to all stakeholders and how the change would impact their communities.”
Dr. Barry Chaiken, chief medical officer of DocsNetwork, said, “The electronic exchange of patient information facilitates higher quality, safer and less costly care. Removing barriers to this exchange, as done by the newly passed legislation in Wisconsin, challenges all the state’s healthcare facilities to move forward quickly on their health information technology and interoperability initiatives. In addition, I am hopeful that all organizations will work cooperatively to ensure comprehensive patient data exchange capabilities throughout Wisconsin. Such work can become a model for the rest of the nation.”
The law permits health care providers to disclose health information to immediate members of a patient’s family or a close personal friend involved in the patient’s care if the patient provides informal permission, rather than requiring written consent as required in current law. If the patient is incapacitated or unavailable, a health care provider could use his or her professional judgment to determine whether sharing the information is in the best interest of the patient. Under this bill, written consent is still required for a health care provider to release a copy of a patient’s health care record to family and friends.
Dr. Edward Barthell, co-founder of the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange said, “This bill is a good step in the right direction, but I would have liked it to go further, especially in the sharing of discharge summaries in mental health facilities and the sharing of information for treatment plans. Currently a special consent process is needed to release these records.”
“The question that still remains unanswered is: How can the state help fund health information exchange projects across Wisconsin?” Barthell added. “Eventually I think this is going to need to be payer-sponsored to help get the industry capitalized.”
“The biggest issue this bill impacted is the ability to move information between providers and validate the adoption of electronic health exchanges now,” Hayden said. He cited the project undertaken by the five major providers in Madison to use Epic Systems electronic medical records software and interoperate, saying the law at the time prevented the exchange of data.
“This e-health legislation is one of the few pieces of legislation passed in the current session,” said Peter Strombom, president of Strombom Associates and former CIO of Meriter Hospital. “The very fact that the legislation was drafted after extensive input from the community and healthcare providers, and that this was achieved in a period of a little over six months, is remarkable.”
Strombom called for Dane County providers to work with the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange in Milwaukee and perhaps the Marshfield Clinic as a next step.
“For the network to be developed beyond this triangle will take some serious funding,” he said. “How far is the governor prepared to go with budget dollars? Can Medicare/Medicaid programs step up to the plate? There are still many questions to be answered, but we can take the first step.”
Related links & documents
• eHealth Care Quality and Patient Safety Board of Wisconsin
• Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services fact sheet on changes to the law
See additional coverage:
• Senate, Assembly pass bill to accommodate patient data exchange
• Healthcare execs, state employees testify on behalf of patient data exchange bill
• Bill would pave way for electronic exchange of patient data
• Electronic patient data exchange: eHealth Board recommends changes to mental health law
• DHC 2007: Barriers to electronic data exchange include the law