HHS proposes new rule to eliminate physician barriers to patient database

HHS is proposing a rule, issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), that would eliminate barriers to patient records as physicians treat those with substance use disorders. The new rule would amend 42 CFR Part 2, and is part of an ongoing push to cut outdated or unnecessarily strict regulations in health care. 

“SAMHSA strives to facilitate information exchange for safe and effective substance use disorder care, while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns of patients seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. Within the constraints of the statute, these proposals are also an effort to make the regulations more understandable and less burdensome,” a summary of the rule explains

Current laws do not allow a physician to check existing databases to see if a patient is being treated for substance use disorders before being prescribed an opioid. If passed, this new rule would allow access to that database information. 

Part 2 prohibits sharing data about patients’ treatment at federally funded programs with other health care providers unless the patient grants permission. The law was created to protect the records of those who were undergoing substance abuse disorder treatment. But, providers claimed that the law created extra administrative oversight because they’re also bound by HIPAA


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The new proposal attempts to clarify which information is, and is not protected by Part 2, and states that records do not have to be deleted for patients who are undergoing substance abuse disorder treatment. The rule would also give providers access to databases that show whether a patient is being treated for SUD. This proposed rule change is an attempt to improve coordinated care, while maintaining patient safety. 

“This notice of proposed rulemaking proposes changes to the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulations. These proposals were prompted by the need to continue aligning the regulations with advances in the U.S. health care delivery system, while retaining important privacy protections for individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs),” the proposed rule states. 

The new rule attempts to address the administrative complaints by providers. But, it has been met with concern from patients who worry about their health care records being exposed to less privacy restrictions. 

SAMHSA is accepting public comments for consideration on the proposed rule until October 25th. Comments can be submitted online, or via mail.