Photo: HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.

The growing computerization, exchange and analysis of patient data offer the potential to improve the quality of care and reduce costs and medical errors, but those benefits won't be fully realized until privacy concerns are effectively addressed, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said last week.

In a keynote address to the Nationwide Health Information Network Forum, Leavitt announced key privacy principles and a toolkit to guide efforts to harness the potential of new technology and more effective data analysis, while protecting privacy. Leavitt emphasized that appropriate privacy and security measures will be an essential sociological enabler of groundbreaking technology.

"Finding the balance between increased access to information and privacy is very important. If we don't have it, we won't succeed," Leavitt said. "Consumers shouldn't be in a position to have to accept privacy risks they don't want. Each consumer should be able to choose products and services that best fit their health needs and privacy preferences.

"Consumers need an easy-to-read, standard notice about how their personal health information is protected, confidence that those who misuse information will be held accountable, and the ability to choose the degree to which they want to participate in information sharing," Leavitt said. "Over time, consumer confidence in the handling of health information is likely to grow just as consumer confidence in online banking has grown, but that won't happen without similar protections and transparency about the use of their information."

Privacy Principles

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