Medical privacy rules get an update

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 18 2013 8:58 p.m. MST

WASHINGTON — Those medical privacy rules you run into at hospitals, pharmacies and in your own doctor's office are getting an update.

Regulations unveiled this week by the Obama administration create new information rights that should make life easier for consumers. They also tighten restrictions on medical service providers trying to use patient information for marketing, and they greatly expand the list of businesses that can be punished for unauthorized disclosures.

The long-awaited rules carry out a 2009 law promoting electronic medical records and updating federal privacy protections.

On the privacy front, doctors will now have to get prior approval from patients to pitch new medications or medical devices if those pitches are being paid for by a drug company.

For example, sometimes a pharmaceutical company will pay doctors to send all their heart patients a letter about a new medication. It may not be readily apparent to the patient that the drug company is compensating the doctor for sending the update.

The rules also create new rights for consumers.

For instance, you should find it much easier to get your medical records electronically instead of on paper. Up to now, some doctors and hospitals have been able to avoid providing records electronically by saying they don't have the capability.

Another welcome change: with your permission, your doctor can share your children's immunization records directly with a school.

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