August 19, 2010
Negotiations lasting almost a year have ended with agreement that local AIDS agencies will not have to post confidential client information to a database housed on a secure Internet-based server. The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) said information entered into the ARIES database would be used to audit AIDS agencies, cutting expenses related to travelling all over the state for on-site visits.
However, DSHS could not provide the agencies with a list of who would be authorized to access the database, said Don Maison, executive director of AIDS Services Dallas. Trying to accommodate the mandate, Maison said he sent staff members for ARIES training but instructed them not to enter any client information.
Dallas County supported local service providers during the negotiations. In the end, providers will be able to enter data needed by the state without posting confidential patient notes online. The state provides counties with funds to conduct audits.
The only objections to using ARIES came from Dallas. Houston does not receive Ryan White Part B funding that would be affected by ARIES, said Raeline Nobles, executive director of AIDS Arms in Dallas. Agencies in other parts of the state told Nobles they are too small to object to the mandate.
"If information ever got out to the public, we'd be liable," said Nobles.
ARIES allows the state to codify and evaluate HIV services offered statewide, said Greg Beets, DSHS public information coordinator for HIV/STD programs. "The data helps provide a snapshot of what services are being provided and identify unmet service needs," he said.
Confidentiality is a shared concern, Beets said, noting that the ARIES system met national standards and was secure. The measures include limited access to the system on a need-to-know basis, security at the building in which the computer is housed, and encrypted information.
Smaller agencies, particularly those located in rural settings unable to afford their own database, may want to use the ARIES system, Nobles said.