A major consumer group, insurers together with Google and Microsoft said on Wednesday they have agreed to standards intended to speed adoption of personal electronic health records.
The electronic medical record field remains in its infancy. While U.S. privacy laws govern actions by medical providers such as doctors, there is little in the way of other established privacy, security and data usage standards despite decades of industry efforts.
Backers, which also include some doctors and employer groups, said they hope to break a stalemate in moving medical records online, sparked by consumer fears that their personal information will be abused, or held against them.
"A policy and privacy logjam ... has constricted some of the consumer uptake of these services," said James Dempsey, deputy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy rights group that accepts some industry funding.
Principles for personal health records include an audit trail to track use of the data, a dispute resolution process for consumers who believe their personal information has been misused and a ban on using data to discriminate in employment.
Also signing on to the principles are WebMD Health Corp; Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports; seniors' lobbying group AARP; and America's Health Insurance Plans, representing big insurers such as Aetna Inc.
But not all groups agreed the framework would be progress. The American Civil Liberties Union called the effort an "after-the-fact approach."
"Their approach is build a system and we'll find out about privacy after the fact," ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani said.
Separately, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday debated a bill to set up a national coordinator for health information and encourage adoption of electronic technology.
A companion bill is working its way through the Senate, though its prospects are unclear. Concerns over privacy protections for consumers have stalled progress.
The ACLU objects to the current version of the bill because it lacks language letting patients review their own files and correct bad data.
Experts say the fragmented nature of the health care system, in which most doctors still use paper records and most patients do not have access to their own personal health information, has stalled adoption of digital health records.
But Microsoft this month announced that Kaiser Permanente, the biggest U.S. health maintenance organization, will use Microsoft's HealthVault platform to link Kaiser employees who volunteer to have their records transferred.
Google sells Google Health, a U.S. health data service that combines the leading Web company's search services with a user's personal health records online.
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