OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Legislation signed into law last year is leaving Oklahoma healthcare workers fearful of how detrimental it will be on the industry and their patients.
Senate Bill 1369, a.k.a. the Health Information Act is supposed to go into effect July 1. The bill would require healthcare providers to enter patient records into an online database.
A licensed counselor and spokesperson for Oklahoma Providers for Privacy, Shay Espinosa said this database is a clear violation of patients’ rights and privacy.
Espinosa calls the treatment of patients an honor, but now she feels like she’s letting her patients down.
“It’s heartbreaking. It really is. To feel like you’re letting somebody down and to feel like you have to go to them and say, ‘Hey, I promise I would do my best. I have sworn to keep your thoughts safe and I’m no longer allowed to do that.’ I’m being mandated to violate that trust and that privacy. It’s hard. It’s really hard,” added Espinosa.
James Perry with Vivify Counseling, LLC told KFOR he’s in the same boat.
“It’s really not needed for the mental health industry. You know, clients have the option to whether or not they want to have their information released or not. Normally, a therapist will do that through a release of information to get information from a doctor or vice versa if they need to. It’s something that’s really not needed and the law really doesn’t provide any advantages to that,” said Perry. “I never thought something like this would happen. It’s detrimental to the field.”
On the other hand, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority Secretary, Kevin Corbett said this new law will pave a new path in healthcare.
“We think this is a game changer for the state. We’ve lacked the ability to kind of share information across a wide variety of providers who serve our members and in the Medicaid program and citizens in general. So this is something we believe will add to coordination of care, better treatments, better information flow is obviously a good thing, if you will,” stated Corbett.
This new law doesn’t just pertain to Medicaid providers. It’s for all healthcare providers.
Healthcare professionals will be required to log all sorts of information into the database, including:
- Names of the doctors and other health professionals who provided care to the patient
- Current medications prescribed to a patient
- Lab and x-ray results
- Past procedures
- Known allergies
- Immunization records
- Hospital discharge records
- Basic personal information (a patient’s name, address, family phone contacts, etc.)
Corbett said those records will remain in the database until the patient authorizes it to be released to other Oklahoma healthcare providers.
“If they don’t feel safe with it being stored, they will not come to services, they will not seek services and that will cost us lives in Oklahoma,” said Espinosa.
OHCA is capable of making changes to the new law as it states OHCA shall have the power and duty to oversee the state-designated entity for health information exchange.
OHCA has made some changes to the law’s language defining who a healthcare provider is as well as the definitions for healthcare facility and healthcare services.
Corbett said Oklahoma is already behind the ball on having this kind of database, so having one is a need.
“We’ve been at the opportunity to develop a health information exchange statewide for a long time,” said Corbett. “All 50 states have an HIE or they’re in process of having one.”
This database would be available statewide, but Corbett said this is the first step in pushing for a nationwide database.
What concerns many healthcare providers is the “what if” of this database being breached.
“I think we can look at the data breach of the D.C. health link exchange that happened on March 9th when over 200 congressmen in Washington, D.C., their information was hacked. This goes past just that personal level of who we might know that could access it,” said Espinosa.
Corbett wants to reassure everyone there will be a “very strict access” in terms of who can look at the database.
“There’s lots of stringent security around this data, as you expect. It is personal health information that we want to make sure that we all have a responsibility to protect,” explained Corbett.
There is an opt-out form healthcare providers and patients can fill out, but it’s not fool-proof.
The form states those records will be made available in emergency situations if needed.
The term “emergency” is not defined though.
Before moving forward with their final decision to implement the law on July 1, OHCA posted a comment section online to which their website flooded with comments, most claiming they feel the same as Perry and Espinosa.
In an Oklahoma Counselor’s Association survey, members were asked, “How will the implementation of OHCA’S [Healthcare Information Exchange] policy impact you and your practice?”
94.01% selected “extremely negatively.”
A total of 718 people answered the question.
46.91% also reported their business would close down entirely with this new law.
49.72% said they’d surrender their license and leave the industry.
45.37% stated this would cause their clients to leave.
Funding this health network has also factored into these answers.
According to OHCA, clinics may have to foot a one-time connection fee of $5,000 in addition to a “monthly subscription.”
“This cost covers the time and effort for the State Designated Entity (MyHealth) to meet with the providers’ EMR vendor or the IT team, review the standards, setup the secure connection, and test the data flow,” said OHCA.
Corbett said those costs are not set in stone yet.
“We’re working on what that should be as part of this implementation process,” said Corbett.
The Office of the State Coordinator for HIE may allow exemptions from the requirement
to report data to and utilize the SDE beginning July 1, 2023, on the basis of financial hardship,
size, or technological capability of a health care provider or organization or such other bases
as may be provided by rules promulgated by OHCA.
You can submit the exemption form online.
Corbett said OHCA has chosen MyHealth to move forward with implementation.
“We’re working with our state designating entity, which is MyHealth. We chose them to work with us in this regard in terms of implementing the conditions in which we think is appropriate. They have a current process they use today for those that have already chosen to be part of their health information exchange,” said Corbett.
Despite the argument and initiative OHCA has taken with this health network, Perry said he’s frustrated for his clinic and his patients.
“Utter shock, anger, frustration, asking why, you know, what good is this going to do? You know, it just doesn’t seem right,” said Perry.
Perry, Espinosa, and dozens of other mental health care providers plan to march from the OHCA building on Lincoln Blvd. to the State Capitol Saturday at 1 p.m.
Espinosa encourages anyone who is interested to join.
Those involved will meet at the OHCA building at noon before the march.
Several healthcare workers have already started making signs as of Wednesday morning.
The march is being led by a grassroots organization called Oklahoma Providers for Privacy.
The OHCA Board of Directors plans to meet on March 22 at 2 p.m. to cast their final votes on the new law.
Espinosa said if it passes, she may surrender her license and provide care in another state.