HIPAA Reminder - COVID-19

Coronavirus is the hot topic right now, but HIPAA still applies. Be mindful what you share.

While social media is blowing up with so called “facts” about the Novel Coronavirus, something that every clinician needs to remember is that following HIPAA is paramount.

Interesting enough, when another Ohio case was announced yesterday, I received a call from a friend telling me that the man testing positive lives about three miles from a family member…. Really?  Unless that individual or his family member shared that information, this type of information should not be out in “air waves”. Let’s be clear, the 18 PHI identifiers with regard to health information include: 

  • Names
  • Dates, except year
  • Telephone numbers
  • Geographic data
  • FAX numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Medical record numbers
  • Account numbers
  • Health plan beneficiary numbers
  • Certificate/license numbers
  • Vehicle identifiers and serial numbers including license plates
  • Web URLs
  • Device identifiers and serial numbers
  • Internet protocol addresses
  • Full face photos and comparable images
  • Biometric identifiers (i.e. retinal scan, fingerprints)
  • Any unique identifying number or code

HIPAA has a special guidance section for what information and to whom that information can be released during an emergency situation. You can review these guidelines at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/emergency-preparedness/decision-tool-overview/index.html .

Office of Civil Rights 

Overall, remember the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is very clear in their message:  there needs to be a balance between protecting the privacy of patient PHI (protected health information) and the appropriate use and disclosure of information to protect the public.

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