Objective: The Ethical Force Program is a collaborative effort to create performance measures for ethics in health care. This report lays out areas of consensus that may be amenable to performance measurement on protecting the privacy, confidentiality and security of identifiable health information.
Design: Iterative consensus development process.
Participants: The program's oversight body and its expert panel on privacy include national leaders representing the perspectives of physicians, patients, purchasers, health plans, hospitals, and medical ethicists as well as public health, law, and medical informatics experts.
Methods and main results: The oversight body appointed a national Expert Advisory Panel on Privacy and Confidentiality in September 1998. This group compiled and reviewed existing norms, including governmental reports and legal standards, professional association policies, private organization statements and policies, accreditation standards, and ethical opinions. A set of specific and assessable expectations for ethical conduct in this domain was then drafted and refined through 7 meetings over 16 months. In the final 2 iterations, each expectation was graded on a scale of 1 to 10 by each oversight body member on whether it was: (1) important, (2) universally applicable, (3) feasible to measure, and (4) realistic to implement. The expectations that did not score more than 7 (mean) on all 4 scales were reconsidered and retained only if the entire oversight body agreed that they should be used as potential subjects for performance measurement. Consensus was achieved on 34 specific expectations. The expectations fell into 8 content areas, addressing the need for transparency of policies and practices, consent for use and disclosure of identifiable information, limitations on information that can be collected and by whom, individual access to one's own health records, security requirements for storage and transfer of information, provisions to ensure ongoing data quality, limitations on how identifiable information may be used, and provisions for meaningful accountability.
Conclusions: This process established consensus on 34 measurable ethical expectations for the protection of privacy and confidentiality in health care. These expectations should apply to any organization with access to personally identifiable health information, including managed care organizations, physician groups, hospitals, other provider organizations, and purchasers. Performance measurement on these expectations may improve accountability across the health care system.