Outpatient-data regulations approved by state Some confidentiality safeguards included

November 07, 1996|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

The state's hospital rate-setting commission approved new regulations yesterday allowing collection of detailed outpatient data.

The regulations include some confidentiality safeguards, after opponents worried that patient privacy might be compromised. Still, opponents said they would continue to battle for protection, perhaps through legislation in next year's General Assembly session.

The additional safeguards "are a step in the right direction, appreciating our concern that the information can be personally identifiable. But in my view, I don't think they went far enough," said Mimi Azrael, an attorney who testified against the data collection last month representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Women's Law Center of Maryland and the Family Law Center.

The Health Services Cost Review Commission, which sets hospital rates in Maryland, has been collecting information for about 20 years on every hospital admission in the state. Among that data are age, race and sex of the patient; diagnosis; procedures performed; cost; length of stay; and insurance coverage. For about eight years, it has collected similar data on outpatient surgery at hospitals.

The new regulations expand the database to cover all other outpatient visits to hospitals. They don't cover visits to doctors' offices or freestanding clinics not on hospital campuses, since the commission regulates only hospitals.

The commission's staff argued in a report that it needs the data "to ensure that hospitals are providing those services efficiently and effectively to all patients, regardless of who is paying the bill." Currently, the staff wrote, the commission receives no data on services costing about $850 million a year, or 17 percent of hospitals' revenue.

In addition to concerns about confidentiality, representatives of the hospital industry expressed concern in hearings last month that making the data public from regulated hospitals, but not from their unregulated competitors, would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

In response to the objections, the commission's staff recommended that exact date of birth in patient data be converted to age in years, making identification of individuals more difficult. Also, the staff recommended that the data be collected for three years beginning April 1, 1997, before it is released, so the commission can have experience before it decides "the appropriate nature and extent of data release."

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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