HIPAA FAQ – Disclosures for Rule Enforcement2020-09-08T13:30:09-04:00

HIPAA FAQ – Disclosures of Rule Enforcement

Why would HIPAA Privacy Rule require covered entities to turn over anybody’s personal health information as part of a government enforcement process?2020-09-06T17:52:08-04:00

An important ingredient in ensuring compliance with the Privacy Rule is the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) responsibility to investigate complaints that the Rule has been violated and to follow up on other information regarding noncompliance. At times, this responsibility entails seeing personal health information, such as when an individual indicates to the Department that they believe a covered entity has not properly handled their medical records.

What information would be needed depends on the circumstances and the alleged violations. The Privacy Rule limits HHS Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) access to information that is “pertinent to ascertaining compliance.” In some cases, no personal health information may be needed. For instance, OCR would need to review only a business contract to determine whether a health plan included appropriate language to protect privacy when it hired an outside company to help process claims.

Examples of investigations that may require OCR to have access to protected health information include:

  • Allegations that a covered entity refused to note a request for correction in a patient’s medical record, or did not provide complete access to a patient’s medical records to that patient.
  • Allegations that a covered entity used health information for marketing purposes without first obtaining the individuals’ authorization when required by the Rule. OCR may need to review information in the marketing department that contains personal health information, to determine whether a violation has occurred.
Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule require my doctor to send my medical records to the government?2020-09-06T17:51:43-04:00

No. The Rule does not require a physician or any other covered entity to send medical information to the government for a government data base or similar operation. This Rule does not require or allow any new government access to medical information, with one exception: the Rule does give the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) the authority to investigate complaints that Privacy Rule protections or rights have been violated, and otherwise to ensure that covered entities comply with the Rule.

For enforcement purposes, OCR may need to look at how a covered entity handled medical records and other personal health information, as is typical in many enforcement settings. This investigative authority is needed so that the Rule can be enforced, and to ensure the independent review of consumers’ concerns over privacy violations.

Even so, the Privacy Rule limits disclosures to OCR to information that is “pertinent to ascertaining compliance.” OCR will maintain stringent controls to safeguard any individually identifiable health information that it receives. If covered entities could avoid or ignore enforcement requests, consumers would not have a way to ensure an independent review of their concerns about privacy violations under the Rule.

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