Mental health advocates protest proposed rule to share patients' data

Protesters fill the steps on the south side during a rally and walk to the Capitol by Oklahoma Providers for Privacy to remove mental health from the Health Information Exchange mandate, Saturday, March 178 2023
Protesters fill the steps on the south side during a rally and walk to the Capitol by Oklahoma Providers for Privacy to remove mental health from the Health Information Exchange mandate, Saturday, March 178 2023

Mental health providers are demonstrating their opposition to a proposed state rule that would require them to share patient names and diagnoses information to regulators and other health professionals through a health information exchange.

About 500 providers and patients gathered Saturday at noon outside of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which will consider adopting a revised rule that would require those disclosures when it meets at 2 p.m. on March 22.

From there, the group marched along Lincoln Boulevard to the south steps of the State Capitol, where they rallied to make sure their views were heard.

"Our biggest issue is the privacy for our clients," said Victoria Whatley, a licensed professional counselor at an Edmond facility. Whatley works with patients who have been through traumas, suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders or other illnesses such as depression or anxiety.

While the rule states that the confidentiality of patients' records will be protected within the system, Whatley and others who gathered Saturday said even sharing those records across a statewide health information exchange system would violate patients' rights under federal law.

Whatley said the rule would violate her own ethical rules. She believes it is wrong even to confirm that an individual is a patient of hers unless the patient has expressly signed an agreement for the information to be released.

"They have said there would be an opt out, but even that would force me to confirm that an individual is receiving my services, and that would violate my ethical codes," she said.

Health Care Authority expects updated rule to benefit providers and patients

According to the health care authority, the proposed rule would benefit all Oklahomans and their healthcare providers because information that will be gathered and accessible through the exchange will enable users to better coordinate patients' medical care and improve the health care delivery system's efficiencies.

If adopted, it would require all health care providers to at least be working on connecting to the health information exchange by July 1 so their data could be shared among all network users.

Authority members will gather to consider adopting the amended rule when they meeting in their boardroom at 4345 N Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City.

Opponents only recently learned of participation requirement, one says

Jeff Fine-Thomas, a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Edmond with his wife (a licensed psychologist) said Saturday he only recently learned about participation requirements in the health information exchange, even though the exchange itself was created through a law the legislature approved last year.

"A lot of people who wanted to comment about this were unable to" because they only learned about the proposed modified rule as a public comment period was about to close, Fine-Thomas said.

He said a representative of the health care authority met with concerned practitioners Friday.

"It sounds as if they are trying to understand our concerns, but I don't know how this is going to play out. It is a complex issue, for sure."

Fine-Thomas said he worries a requirement that would force him to disclose his patients names and diagnoses into a system that could be accessed by every other health care provider in the state would create "a situation where informed consent is being stripped from a patient's control."

Whatley echoed his concerns.

"When people go to therapy, they let out the deepest, darkest secrets in their mind, and they don't want other people to know that. We are just fighting for people's privacy," she said.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Mandatory reporting requirements protested by mental health advocates