OCR issues bulletin on applying HIPAA Privacy Rule in emergencies such as Ebola

Posted on; 11/12/14

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has issued a bulletin reviewing the ways in which patient information may be shared under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule in emergency situations such as the Ebola outbreak. According to the bulletin, the HIPAA Privacy Rule is not suspended during a public health or other emergency, but “is balanced to ensure that appropriate uses and disclosures of the information still may be made when necessary to treat a patient, to protect the nation’s public health, and for other critical purposes.” 

If the president declares an emergency or disaster and the secretary declares a public health emergency (which they have not for the current Ebola situation), the Health and Human Services secretary may waive penalties for violations of certain provisions of the rule for a limited time, the bulletin notes. For more information on HIPAA in emergency situations, visit www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/emergency. (AHA News Now, Nov. 10, 2014)