Health Law Information Project Assesses Legal Barriers to Using Health Information to Improve Health Care Quality and Reduce Disparities

Legal barriers to using quality and disparities data

Field of Work: Legal barriers to using quality and disparities data.

Problem Synopsis: To achieve transparency, health care systems and providers need to measure and share information about performance according to generally accepted, broadly applicable and reliable measures of quality. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has emphasized the role of racial and ethnicity data in quality improvement, because health care systems cannot correct disparities without being able to track them.

Advances in information technology offered the potential to provide widely available, private yet secure, information of unprecedented depth and quality. Yet, as of 2001, health care was "relatively untouched by the revolution that has swept nearly every other aspect of society," according to the IOM.

Legal issues related to collecting, analyzing and publicly reporting quality-related health information were partly responsible for the lack of health information systems. Health care systems, hospitals, health care providers and others were concerned that the use of health care information would expose them to greater legal risks due to the legal environment and perceptions of the legal environment, according to researchers at the George Washington University.

Synopsis of the Work: From June 2004 to June 2008, a team of lawyers at George Washington University identified and assessed the actual and perceived legal barriers to using health information to improve health care quality and reduce disparities. The project team identified nine major categories of legal issues that can arise from the use of health information and analyzed a variety of legal issues related to these categories. The team also developed a framework for considering legal reforms to lessen or remove these barriers. The work has come to be known as the Legal Barriers to Health Information Project.

Key Results: The project team reported the following results to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and in published reports. Members:

  • Identified nine categories of major issues that arise from the use of health information.
  • Developed a conceptual framework for considering legal reforms to lessen or remove barriers to using health information to improve health care quality and reduce disparities.
  • Produced 18 legal analyses (eight reports, four journal articles, five memos to RWJF and one book chapter) related to the development and use of health information to improve health care quality and reduce disparities. The publications analyze issues, identify implications for health policy and present options for addressing barriers.