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Privacy Regulations to Go Into Effect April 14

Cheryl A. Thompson

President Bush announced yesterday that the federal rule on health information privacy will go into effect April 14 and that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will recommend modifications to address concerns raised by the public.

The privacy rule (PDF), developed by HHS during the Clinton administration and released Dec. 28, 2000, sets federal standards for protecting the privacy of personal health records. Originally set to go into effect Feb. 26, the rule underwent additional review by the incoming administration, with a new effective date set for April 14. HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson accepted through March 30 comments from the public regarding the final rule, which differed substantially from the rule proposed in 1999. In general, pharmacists and other health care providers have to become fully compliant with the rule within the next two years.

Thompson, in a statement issued yesterday, said that HHS will clarify through guidelines or recommended modifications to the rule that "pharmacists will be able to fill prescriptions over the phone and serve their customers in a timely manner."

Not mentioned by Thompson were various other issues raised by pharmacy organizations in comments submitted to HHS. For example, ASHP noted that the rule requires a pharmacist have a patient’s signed consent form before filling a prescription. That requirement, said ASHP’s Government Affairs Division (GAD), makes it inconvenient for a patient to have a family member bring in the patient’s prescription for a pharmacist to dispense.

GAD said it will monitor the government’s modifications to the final rule as they are issued.