HITECH Act, Psychotherapy Notes and Test Results

I am sure some of you remember that the HITECH portion of the stimulus bill (ARRA) included attempts to strengthen the protection of psychotherapy notes in the new Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). In fact, the Secretary of HHS was instructed by Congress to study whether the protections for psychotherapy notes granted by HIPAA should be extended to psychological testing.

HHS is finally gearing up to begin this study and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has been tasked with organizing and conducting the study.

September 7, 2010
 The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is conducting a Confidentiality and Privacy Issues Related to Psychological Testing Data study, in close cooperation with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) pursuant to section 13424 of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (P.L. 111-5). This study is addressing whether the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s special protections relating to the use and disclosure of psychotherapy notes should also be applied to “test data that is related to direct responses, scores, items, forms, protocols, manuals or other materials that are part of a mental health evaluation.”
As part of this study, SAMHSA is hosting public meetings to bring together professionals in the areas of mental health and privacy protection to discuss current practices and the policy implications surrounding this very important issue. The next regional public meeting will be held at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region 5 office in Chicago, Illinois, on October 7, 2010. The details of this meeting, as well as the project staff contact information, are contained in the embedded brochure…. 


Some of the issues that will be addressed are included on page two of the brochure.

  • What  activities  and  information  are  considered  the  “test  data”  that  is  part  of  a  mental health evaluation?  What are the relevant distinctions among test materials, raw data, and reports  or  assessments  with  respect  to  the  level  of  protection  currently  afforded  and/or otherwise necessary?
  • Are  there  circumstances  under  which  test  data  should  be  disclosed  to  third  parties?  Should  the  individual’s  authorization  be  required  prior  to  such  a  disclosure?  To  whom should test data be released?
  • How  would  affording  mental  health  test  data  a  higher  level  of  protection  affect  the workflow  in  medical,  behavioral  health,  or  psychological  practices?  Are  there  any additional  implications  with  respect  to  clinical  integration  efforts  and  the  increasing
    availability of mental health services in general health care settings?

Another regional meeting is planned for Los Angeles in November or December. SAMHSA does not indicate whether others will be held. This is certainly an important opportunity to have your voice heard if you are a practitioner whose primary work is psychological testing, if you are a consumer of services who might want or not want raw test data to be shared among treating professionals without your specific authorization, or if you are a potential recipient of such data.

Is the protection of psychotherapy notes and psychological test data an issue for your practice or organization? What guidelines do you currently follow in determining how such data are released? How would new rules affect you?

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