Privacy’s New Normal

Privacy’s New Normal

By Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE

The need to adapt in the face of unprecedented challenges is a theme I have returned to time and again since the start of the pandemic. Though not without mistakes or setbacks, healthcare professionals from every domain have responded to unimaginable pressure with grace, humility, courage, and a willingness to adapt strategies and workflow based on facts and evidence.

Healthcare professionals have applied their expertise not just to the physiological threats of COVID-19, but to the pre-existing vulnerabilities in our health system that have been magnified by the pandemic, including information privacy and security.

As Kelly McLendon and co-authors note in our special issue of the Journal of AHIMA, Privacy at the Crossroads, “The COVID-19 public health emergency has forced privacy and security professionals in healthcare to adapt to new realities and practices for the indefinite future.”

COVID-19 isn’t the only significant impact to privacy and security. Increased interoperability, portability, and connectivity of health information presents clear opportunities to improve patient care and challenges our ability to safeguard individuals’ privacy and the security of protected health information.

“While consequences for violating privacy and security laws are the most apparent reasons, it goes well beyond that. Privacy and security of health information sustains one’s dignity and right to be free of unwanted attention,” says Laurie A. Rinehart-Thompson, JD, RHIA, CHP, FAHIMA, professor and director of the health information management and systems program at The Ohio State University, and host of AHIMA’s upcoming webinar series on privacy and security.

In response, AHIMA aims to equip health information professionals with the necessary resources to adapt to new realities, modernize standards and regulations, and empower them to provide evidence-based expertise to professionals in every domain of the healthcare ecosystem.

As healthcare leaders, we look at today’s challenges through the lens of opportunity and innovation. The ultimate success of these efforts may be years away, but the spirit with which these complex problems are tackled is evident now—and we should be inspired and evermore determined to continue the fight.

With this fearless spirit as our focal point, AHIMA is proud to launch a comprehensive look into the issue of information privacy and security.

For AHIMA members and health information professionals, this is a unique opportunity to capture a holistic view of evolving threats and opportunities here at home and around the world.

For other healthcare professionals in clinical, financial, and administrative domains, we offer an expert’s view of how information privacy and security is impacting technology, compliance, and patient trust in an increasingly digital and interoperable age.

Here’s a preview of the multimedia content we have curated on this topic:

  • The August issue of the Journal of AHIMA features Privacy at the Crossroads, a collection of five stories that examine information privacy and security through myriad lenses, including the COVID-19 response, hospital and health system models, the development of privacy regulations across the globe, patient identification and matching, and mitigating the threat of cyberattacks. We also have curated and resurfaced the best privacy and security content we have published in 2020. You can access Privacy at the Crossroads here.
  • AHIMA’S Public Policy and Government Affairs office has released three policy statements related to this topic, including patient identification and matching; the use of policy to address existing privacy, confidentiality, and security gaps in the protection of health information held by HIPAA non-covered entities; and the use of policy and other tools to realize the benefits of greater integration of clinical and administrative data. Please access our policy statements here.
  • We also are excited to announce a new webinar series on privacy and information security. Moderated by Laurie A. Rinehart-Thompson, JD, RHIA, CHP, FAHIMA, professor and director of the health information management and systems program at The Ohio State University. The series kicks off Aug. 19, at 12pm (CST) with a deep dive into privacy before and after HIPAA. Save the date and register for “What Regulates Health Information Privacy?” today

We are living through an unprecedented era of uncertainty, fear, and tragedy—and we have such a long journey to the other side. However, I believe that from this darkness we have an opportunity that is equally unprecedented—to forge a new path and create a better tomorrow for ourselves and the communities we serve and to fundamentally transform American healthcare into a safer, more equitable, and more effective system.