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Advocates produce best practices for pharmacy privacy

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When you go to the pharmacy to pick up a refill, the communications you receive there can be very valuable. But some advocates are concerned about patient privacy and want to make sure that these pharmacy programs give consumers the privacy protections they need. NCL formed a working group to create a set of voluntary best practice principles for the pharmacy industry.

Pharmacy direct-to-patient (DTP) messaging programs that provide patients with tailored information about their health conditions, about the drugs that have been prescribed for them, or about alternative or adjunctive therapies that may be available to them, serve an important public health objective. Making treatment-related information available to patients is good for patients and good for the public, because informed patients are engaged in their health care, which leads to better health outcomes.

However, tailored messaging programs are troubling to some consumers, consumer organizations and privacy advocates, who are concerned that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule does not go far enough in ensuring that these programs give consumers enough notice of the purposes for which their medical information may be used and providing choice about how their medical information is, and is not, used. Notice and choice are at the heart of fair information practices. Fair information practices are principles that represent global norms for privacy. Concerns have also been raised by some about the ethics of sponsored programs.

To respond to these concerns, the National Consumers League invited representatives from public interest organizations, health professionals, the consumer/privacy movement, pharmacy industry trade groups and retailers, pharmacy vendors and pharmaceutical manufacturers to form a Working Group to create a set of voluntary performance-based best practice principles for the pharmacy industry that build upon the requirements contained in the HIPAA Privacy Rule. In particular, the Working Group believes that the Best Practice Principles elaborated in this document bridge the gap between the protections afforded by HIPAA and fair information practices that define the degree of control that consumers should have over the ways their health information is used.

Read the full report (PDF) Health Care Communications Provided by Pharmacies: Best Practice Principles for Safeguarding Patient Privacy.

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