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Kirk Nahra Weighs in on Metadata Tagging of Electronic Health Records

BNA's Privacy & Security Law Report
September 5, 2011

Wiley Rein partner Kirk Nahra was quoted commenting on possible privacy concerns involving metadata tagging of electronic health records (EHRs). Metadata tagging involves breaking data down into small pieces and attaching privacy restrictions relating to how the data can be used, along with other information, to that data. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology recently published a proposed rule for metadata tagging standards and how it can be implemented to allow for maximum interoperability.

Privacy experts have said that while metadata tagging could increase interoperability of EHR systems, it also raises privacy concerns and could complicate compliance. “One premise of encouraging health IT adoption is that EHRs and building integrated data exchange networks can improve patient care, make systems more efficient and reduce errors,” Mr. Nahra said. “However, metadata tagging could result in a compliance risk associated with every piece of data that is exchanged, which could created a standstill in data exchange,” he added. “If the goal is to have reliable records for physicians, patients picking and choosing what data is shared is not going to achieve that goal,” Mr. Nahra cautioned. He also expressed concern that “ONC actions on specific metadata standards would be a continuing complication at the ‘small picture’ level, while there are still dramatic big picture open questions about how these records will work generally and how these overall record systems will be used to the benefit of both patients and the health care system as a whole.”