HHS, VA demonstrate confidential sharing of sensitive data

Sensitive behavioral health information can be electronically transmitted from one electronic health record to another without compromising its confidentiality, as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Veterans' Administration showed in a demonstration of the standards that allow such secure sharing.

The demonstration standards were developed as part of the Data Segmentation for Privacy (DS4P) Initiative. Using standards in the initiative, HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the VA transmitted a mock patient's substance abuse treatment records after electronically verifying that the mock patient had consented to the transmission. The demonstration also showed that the data can be "tagged" as sensitive so that the receiving provider knows that further authorization is needed from the patient before it's distributed further.

"Data Segmentation for Privacy provides citizens choice about sharing their most sensitive health information, enhances patient trust and improves VA's ability to support our Veteran community in compliance with federal law," John "Mike" Davis, VA project lead and Veterans Health Administration Security Architect, said in an announcement.

The demonstration is the first phase of a pilot project between the agencies. The second phase, which will be more comprehensive, is slated to launched in March 2013.

Patient health information is required to be kept private and secure under HIPAA and state laws. Certain records, such as those pertaining to substance abuse, HIV status or behavioral health information, are particularly sensitive and subject to more stringent privacy laws.

"Privacy, and the protection of sensitive health information are paramount for many patients with behavioral health conditions," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde said, according to the announcement. "The tools developed in this pilot will be critical for building trust and capacity in EHRs and health information exchanges, especially for patients with behavioral health problems."

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- learn more about the pilot program