The Texas Legislature recently approved S.B. 166, a bill that would allow healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, dentists and others to collect and verify patient data by simply swiping a patient's driver's license, reducing admissions paperwork and streamlining patients' access to their healthcare provider. Currently, healthcare providers are prohibited from accessing, compiling or maintaining electronic data derived from driver's licenses under the Texas Transportation Code. But S.B. 166 -- which has been sent to Governor Rick Perry's desk for his signature -- would amend the Transportation Code to exempt healthcare providers from this prohibition.

The Texas Legislature approved a similar exemption in 2007 that permitted hospitals to use the electronic strip on a driver's license as a tool for admitting patients, and S.B. 166 aims to extend this same capability to other healthcare providers. S.B. 166 also seeks to ensure the privacy and security of information obtained from patients' driver's licenses by prohibiting healthcare providers from selling, transferring or otherwise disseminating information derived from driver's licenses to third parties for any purpose, including marketing or advertising. Importantly, healthcare providers may only transfer information obtained from driver's licenses under S.B. 166 in accordance with HIPAA regulations, and a healthcare provider's business associate and any subcontractor who receives the transferred information may only use it to service or maintain the healthcare provider's database of the information. Thus, while S.B. 166 promises to modernize and streamline the patient admissions process for Texas healthcare providers, it also presents unique privacy challenges they cannot afford to ignore.