ONC: HIPAA does not hinder interoperability

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not impede the interoperability of health data--and this is a point the Office of the National Coordinator is trying to drive home with a series of blog posts and fact sheets.

"HIPAA not only protects personal health information from misuse, but also enables that personal health information to be accessed, used or disclosed interoperably, when and where it is needed for patient care," Lucia Savage, ONC's chief privacy officer, and Aja Brooks, an ONC privacy analyst, write in the first post of a 4-part series.

The fact sheets were developed with help from the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, and include instances where health data was shared without authorization or a note from the patient, Savage and Brooks say.

This isn't the first area of HIPAA about which the Department of Health and Human Services wants to clear up confusion. Last month, OCR released new guidance on patient data rights under HIPAA.

The first document focuses on "Permitted Uses and Disclosures: Exchange for Health Care Operations." It notes that some instances in which covered entities can share data with another covered entity or its business associate without prior authorization include:

  • Conducting quality assessment and improvement activities
  • Developing clinical guidelines
  • Conducting patient safety activities as defined in applicable regulations
  • Conducting population-based activities relating to improving health or reducing health care

The second fact sheet covers the exchange of patient information between or among providers when it comes to treatments. It also reviews the role of business associates when it comes to patient information to create care plans, and the role of the provider and/or health plan in that exchange of data.

"The new fact sheets remind stakeholders through practical, real-life scenarios, that HIPAA supports interoperability because it gives providers permission to share PHI for patient care, quality improvement, population health and other activities," Savage and Brooks say.

Interoperability continues to be a major focus for ONC. Last January, the agency released its 10-year interoperability roadmap. One main part of the roadmap is to enable "a majority of individuals and providers across the care continuum to send, receive, find and use a common set of electronic clinical information at the nationwide level by the end of 2017."

To learn more:
- read the blog post
- here's the first fact sheet (.pdf)
- check out the second fact sheet (.pdf)