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Proposed changes to federal regulations protecting the confidentiality of veterans’ medical records would make it easier for healthcare providers in the private sector to access patient data when they need it most – at the point of care.
The new rule proposed by Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin, MD, allows VA providers to share individual health records with community providers without requiring a signed, physical note of consent from the patient before treatment.
Instead, health information exchange (HIE) providers would be responsible for confirming that a patient has agreed to allow the VA to share his or her medical data with a community provider. In lieu of a physical document signed by the patient, an electronic attestation could be used to request records from the VA.
“While an estimated three out of four veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system also seek medical care in the community, HIE community partners’ requests for their VA health records must frequently be denied because VA does not have a consent on file,” the VA explains in the Federal Register. “The primary obstacle is that veterans will often seek care in the community prior to having the opportunity to provide the consent form to VA and are then left without any means of getting the consent into VA’s physical possession promptly once they are at the community health care facility.”
These types of bureaucratic barriers have contributed to delays in care for veterans, which in turn can cause them to give up seeking treatment. A 2017 study published by the National Institutes of Health showed that 29 percent of veterans delayed seeking needed healthcare in 2010-2011, compared to only 17.2 percent of all Americans.
The proposed rule doesn’t eliminate the need for the VA to be able to access a signed consent from a veteran. It includes language requiring the HIE community provider make the consent form available to the VA within 10 business days by either storing the written form electronically or mailing the physical copy to the VA.
Alternately, the community provider can retain the patient’s written consent under a memorandum of understanding drafted and signed by VA and the provider, which would be required to follow VA record retention requirements.
The VA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule through March 20.