Yesterday Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson and the White House announced that the administration would enact a new federal rule that protects the privacy of medical information. Proposed in the waning days of the Clinton administration, the rule grants patients full access to their own medical records and requires health care providers to obtain permission before disclosing any medical information. The guidelines take effect tomorrow, but doctors and the health industry have two years to come into full compliance. There were a few proposed changes to the original rules, however, such as a provision that allows parents to view their children's records (including those relating to abortion and substance abuse) and a clarification that doctors are allowed to share information with specialists treating the same patient. Although there were some complaints from civil liberty groups about the rule change on childrens' records, privacy groups have praised the new regulations. Conversely, representatives of the health care industry, who have been lobbying the new adminstration hard and expected some major changes, were deeply disappointed.
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