Relaxing privacy rules about patients’ addiction histories could save lives, the administration argues.
The Trump administration could soon weaken patient privacy laws for people who have received treatment for addiction. The intent is to stop doctors and other types of treatment centers from unknowingly providing prescription pain pills or other addictive drugs to patients who have a history of addiction.
The proposed change would let medical providers add addiction treatments into patients’ standard medical records. Health Secretary Alex Azar hopes to make changes to the rules because he believes they prevent doctors and other health care professionals from getting crucial information that patients themselves have already agreed to share.
These regulations “serve as a barrier to safe, coordinated care for patients,” Azar argued. “The information is currently so tightly restricted that even with the patient’s consent to share information, some health care providers are unwilling to record needed information on a patient’s health or treatment.”
To bolster his point, Azar pointed to Jessie’s Law, which gets its namesake from a patient named Jessica Grubb. She was prescribed oxycodone after knee surgery despite having told her doctors about her history of addiction and died from an overdose the night she was released from the hospital.
Similar laws have been bandied about in the halls of Congress. Despite initial bipartisan support, the bills lost steam in the Senate.
Not everyone sees eye-to-eye with Azar’s point of view. Opioid abuse advocacy groups, such as the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence and the Legal Action Center, have voiced concerns regarding involuntarily including such information on patient medical records.
In their view, some patients might dodge the much-needed treatments in order to avoid the heavy stigma that comes with addiction treatment. According to these groups, just 10% of Americans suffering from substance use disorder sought treatment last year, and that number could be even lower if such regulations were passed.
But Azar’s camp remains unconvinced in the face of an increasingly concerning epidemic.
“All of the changes that we are proposing still are premised on patient consent,” said Azar.
Having this information be accessible is crucial “to determine whether a patient was receiving treatment for opioid use disorder,” Azar argued. “And that is information that could save a patient’s life.”