Occupational Health Groups Urge Congress To Keep Employee Records Private

AAOHN and ACOEM are asking Congress to address what they call "major gaps"\r\nleft by the recently-adopted health privacy regulations that leave employees' health information vulnerable.

The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) are asking Congress to address what they call "major gaps" left by the recently-adopted health privacy regulations.

The two organizations are urging member of Congress to support legislation which will extend health protections to cover all health information and all health care providers.

"AAOHN and ACOEM are pleased the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is providing an opportunity to continue the open dialogue about the new health privacy rules," said AAOHN President Deborah DiBenedetto. "The new rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are a major step towards protecting all American''s health information, but still leave large amounts of information vulnerable."

AAOHN and ACOEM are concerned because they say all health care information is not protected by the new rules.

"Most information related to an individual''s employment is not protected and can be accessed by employers," said ACOEM President Dr. Robert Goldberg. "Such information could be sued to make decisions about hiring, firing and promotions."

Individuals visit an occupational health care provider for many reasons associated with employment: pre-placement physical exams, health promotion activities and medical surveillance, fitness for duty examinations, independent medical examinations and medical purposes associated with health and safety regulations.

The organizations said since the rules apply only to those providers engaged in "standard transactions" as defined by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the information collected by these providers may not be included in the protections afforded by the new rules.

AAOHN and ACOEM said, under the new rules, employers will continue to have relatively free access to employee health information.

"Employers do have legitimate needs to have access to certain personal health information for managing workers'' compensation, health and disability benefits and job accommodations or considering fitness for work," noted AAOHN and ACOEM. "However, it does not mean they need unfettered access to an employee''s entire health record."

AAOHN and ACOEM is suggesting federal legislation to close the gaps in the HHS rules and extend protections to cover all health information and health care providers, regardless of how information is transmitted and regardless of whether the information results from a HIPAA standard transaction.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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