WASHINGTON _ Patients in Texas have greater privacy protection for their medical records than many other Americans, say researchers.
But, Texans still need more safeguards, added Joy Pritts of the Health Privacy Project based at Georgetown University.
Texas laws on medical privacy are “above the norm” among the states, said Pritts. “Some of the things that Texas has in its laws are very consumer-oriented,” she said.
On Tuesday, the Health Privacy Project released a state-by-state report on health privacy laws. Texas, the report says, does not have one grand law that forbids the disclosure of confidential patient information. Rather, the state has multiple laws that spell out what specific health care groups—doctors, hospitals, health maintenance organizations—can release.
In Texas, patients have the right to tell their health care providers why, when, how much, and to whom their medical information can be released. This keeps patient information from ending up as fodder for insurance companies, marketers and the public, said Pritts.
Strict state guidelines define the specific categories of people who can get medical records without patient authorization, such as the patient's health care provider or an organization searching for organs or tissues.
“One of the reasons why this is extra protection for people,” she said, “is that a lot of states have acted with the assumption that physicians are just bound by their ethical obligation to confidentiality.”
In almost all cases, patients also have the right to get their medical records from health care providers. They might have to pay a fee for copies of the records, but Texas law has defined those fees as well. This, Pritts said, keeps health care providers from overcharging patients for the copies.
“This is an important consideration for patients, especially those who have been denied medical insurance or have a continuing medical problem,” she said.
But medical privacy in Texas still needs work, Pritts said. The state lacks a law that clearly keeps insurance companies from giving out patients' healthcare information.
Some states have a law that says insurance companies cannot disclose patient information except in certain circumstances. “It's a very specific law,” Pritts said, “aimed at insurers that tells them what they can and cannot do.”
Texas also needs to work on a law that lets patients change any incorrect medical records. Right now, Pritt said, patients can look and make copies of their medical records, but they don't have the legal right to correct them.