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Healthcare and the Federal Trade Commission Act

Adequate DisclosureA healthcare provider, or other health care entity, may be well-versed in HIPAA policies and procedures, but some are not as aware of the need to comply with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act.  If you share health-related information,  your disclosures must adhere to the FTC Act. As many are aware, the FTC Act was designed to protect consumers from deceptive practices or unfair acts in commerce.

About two months ago, the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) put together some good guidelines that can help healthcare organizations make sure they are in compliance with the FTC Act.  They recommend the following:

  • Review your entire user interface. Don’t bury key facts in links to a privacy policy, terms of use, or the HIPAA authorization. For example, if you’re claiming that a consumer is providing health information only to her doctor, don’t require her to click on a “patient authorization” link to learn that it is also going to be viewable by the public. And don’t promise to keep information confidential in large, boldface type, but then ask the consumer in a much less prominent manner to sign an authorization that says you will share it. Evaluate the size, color, and graphics of all of your disclosure statements to ensure they are clear and conspicuous.
  • Take into account the various devices consumers may use to view your disclosure claims. If you are sharing consumer health information in unexpected ways, design your interface so that “scrolling” is not necessary to find that out. For example, you can’t promise not to share information prominently on a web page, only to require consumers to scroll down through several lines of a HIPAA authorization to get the full scoop.
  • Tell consumers the full story before asking them to make a material decision – for example, before they decide to send or post information that may be shared publicly. Review your user interface for contradictions and get rid of them.
  • The same requirements apply to paper disclosure statements. Don’t give consumers a stack of papers where the top page says that their health information is going to their doctor, but another page requests permission to share that health information with a pharmaceutical firm.

In addition to the above guidelines, there is a thorough FTC Disclosures report, called “.com Disclosures - How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising”. It gives straightforward advice about online disclosures, from making sure hyperlinks that lead to a disclosure are obvious, to using plain language. It goes on to provide detailed information not only on the actual placement and proximity of disclosures, but the technical limitations on how a disclosure may, or may not be, displayed in certain browsers.

As healthcare technology evolves, it’s always important to stay abreast of updated HIPAA and FTC rules and regulations to ensure your organization remains compliant. Data Fast Solutions has the experts and technology you need to be certain that you and your organization are always covered in the quickly changing healthcare I.T. environment.

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