Federal officials who regulate home health care will give patients better notice about how personal information is gathered -- and limit who has access to the data -- in an effort to improve privacy protections.

The federal Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) adopted the new safeguards after Vice President Gore ordered a review of the Outcome and Assessment Information Set, a program that routinely will collect personal data about more than 4 million homebound patients in order to improve care and establish a uniform payment system.

Gore and others questioned whether the program adequately protected the personal information of patients after an article on the program appeared in The Washington Post. Starting in April, the agency had planned to require more than 9,000 home health-care providers to conduct a 19-page assessment that asked an array of personal questions, including data about mental health and personal finances.

That information was to be transmitted to the federal government in part to develop a payment system that Congress said should be in use by October next year.

In plans to be published today in the Federal Register, the agency will say the program, known as OASIS, will not require home health-care agencies to transmit personally identifiable information about patients who don't receive Medicare or Medicaid.

Agency officials also will give patients an explanation of why the data is being collected and tell them "of their right to see and to request corrections of the data," according to a statement by the agency. They also will improve encryption of information transmitted electronically and limit the "routine uses" of the data by other government and state agencies.

Home health-care agencies must begin using the survey on July 19. They must start transmitting the information to state agencies on Aug. 25. State agencies will forward the information to the HCFA.

The changes came about after a review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. "These revisions strengthen the privacy protections for vulnerable home health patients while allowing us to better assure the quality of care that they receive," said Jeffrey Kang, director of the agency's office of clinical standards and quality.