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US moves to protect patient details going offshore

Two US bills have proposed further regulation of shipping medical information overseas for analysis, requiring that patients be informed when their information is sent to another country.

Both bills cover broader ground than just healthcare, touching on privacy protection for financial and tax return information, but medical providers say that the additional restrictions on health information may make providing basic services more difficult.

Radiology is, increasingly, being shipped offshore, said Jonathan Linkous, executive director of the American Telemedicine Association, but not as a cost-savings tool. Instead, he said, the practice - often using US radiologists living overseas - has allowed hospitals to get reads at times that might be inconvenient.

"For obvious reasons, when it's midnight here, it's noon in Sydney. This is not about outsourcing to get cheaper reads to screw the patient," he said. "The only effect this [legislation] would have is to hurt patient care."

At present radiology is controlled as tightly outside of the hospital as inside it, and the qualifications of a radiologist operating in another country can be no different than one in the US. Other medical information is also protected by regulations.

Still, the proposed laws would not bar the practice but would instead require patient consent. Jon Berger, a vice president at NightHawk Radiology Services, an Illinois firm that uses US board-certified radiologists in Sydney, believed the added step would not be onerous. "I don't think it would really impact what we do," he said.

Brian Reid writes for Health-IT World


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