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AHA sues HHS over data tracker ban

The American Hospital Association (AHA) claims limits to third-party data trackers harms their ability to share health information.
By admin
Nov 8, 2023, 9:00 AM

The American Hospital Association (AHA), together with several Texas health institutions, has initiated a lawsuit against the federal government, pushing back on a recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that limits the use of third-party data trackers like Meta and Google.  

The AHA argues that the HHS bulletin issued in December 2022 by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), constrains the use of commonplace web technologies critical for hospitals to provide necessary health information and online services to the public. 

The bulletin states that HIPAA-regulated entities cannot use third-party data trackers in a way that would reveal protected health information (PHI), and if they do use tracking technologies, they must obtain authorization. This rule specifically restricts hospitals from collecting IP addresses on public-facing web pages, which could hinder the provision of various online resources to the community.  

The bulletin was released after a slew of lawsuits in 2022 against Cedars-Sinai, Advocate Aurora, WakeMed, and Novant Health and more institutions across the country 

But the AHA argues that the third-party data tracking restrictions limit their ability to disseminate healthcare information online and consequently hurt patients.  

“The Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule restricting the use of critical third-party technologies has real-world impacts on the public, who are now unable to access vital health information. In fact, these technologies are so essential that federal agencies themselves still use many of the same tools on their own webpages, including Medicare.gov, Tricare.mil, Health.mil, and various Veterans Health Administration sites. We cannot understand why HHS created this ‘rule for thee but not for me,’” said Rick Pollack, AHA President and CEO. 

The AHA allege that restrictions on the use of third-party data trackers might also affect: 

– Analytics software that helps to interpret community interaction with hospital web pages, informing on areas of high concern or difficulty in navigation. 

– Video technologies that provide educational content and virtual tours of healthcare facilities. 

– Translation and accessibility services that make healthcare information accessible to non-English speakers and individuals with disabilities. 

– Digital maps offering location services for healthcare facilities, including public transport schedules and driving directions. 

“Simply put, OCR’s new rule harms the very people it purports to protect,” Pollack said. “The federal government’s repeated threats to enforce this unlawful rule tie hospitals’ hands as trusted messengers of reliable health care information.” 

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