Consumers won't trust government, vendors with health data

Finally, someone is talking about a different kind of healthcare reform than the debate that's raged for the better part of a year over expanding insurance coverage. And this part promises to be even more difficult than addressing the problem of the uninsured. We're talking about privacy of electronic health records.

Just 27 percent of 868 respondents to a new Ponemon Institute survey said they would trust the federal government to store or access their electronic health data. A similar number expressed confidence that a technology company like Google, Microsoft or General Electric would protect their privacy. (Come on, folks, let's get off this idea that products like Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault are on the verge of becoming market leaders in health IT. Please.)

"There's a lot of angst around centralizing this information, no matter whether it's managed by private enterprise or government," researcher Larry Ponemon, a privacy advocate, tells Forbes magazine. But that doesn't necessarily mean that EHRs are going to fail, as 71 percent of those surveyed said that hospitals, medical practices or physicians should be able to store their records electronically.

HHS and the Federal Trade Commission are, of course, working on new, tougher HIPAA privacy regulations, as called for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Expect to see a proposed rule by Feb. 17, the anniversary of the bill's signing. Given the decision last year to require notifications only if a data breach could do imminent harm to patient confidentiality, Pam Dixon, director of the World Privacy Forum, worries that the new rules won't be tough enough.

For more on this brewing debate:
- check out this Forbes article