We do not believe that the Privacy Rule will hinder medical research. Indeed, patients and health plan members should be more willing to authorize disclosures of their information for research and to participate in research when they know their information is protected. For example, in genetic studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health, nearly 32 percent of eligible people offered a test for breast cancer risk declined to take it. The overwhelming majority of those who refuse cite concerns about health insurance discrimination and loss of privacy as the reason. The Privacy Rule both permits important research and, at the same time, encourages patients to participate in research by providing much needed assurances about the privacy of their health information.
The Privacy Rule will require some covered health care providers and health plans to change their current practices related to documenting research uses and disclosures. It is possible that some covered health care providers and health plans may conclude that the Rule’s requirements for research uses and disclosures are too burdensome and will choose to limit researchers’ access to protected health information. We believe few providers will take this route, however, because the Common Rule includes similar, and more rigorous requirements, that have not impaired the willingness of researchers to undertake Federally-funded research. For example, unlike the Privacy Rule, the Common Rule requires an Institutional Review Board (IRB) review for all research proposals under its purview, even if informed consent is to be sought. The Privacy Rule requires documentation of IRB or Privacy Board approval only if patient authorization for the use or disclosure of protected health information for research purposes is to be altered or waived.