How Do Emergency Situations Impact HIPAA Compliance?

Every time an emergency public health situation arises in the news, a debate  ensues about patient privacy. Strict Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards ensure that patients receive privacy, but do members of the public also have the right to be aware if they could possibly be in danger?

There is a balance involved with HIPAA compliance that governs this sort of issue. Generally speaking, protected health information cannot be revealed without consent or special circumstances, but some aspects of otherwise protected information must be released for health care providers and entities to be able to provide the highest quality of care and protect public safety.

This issue was particularly prevalent during the  2014 Ebola outbreak, when for the first time in history there were Ebola patients on American soil. There was significant debate in the media and health care community over whether the Ebola patients should have had their names revealed and publicized in the way that they were. However, this was clearly an exceptional situation that required greater public protection.

In November 2014, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office for Civil Rights released a new bulletin highlighting various aspects of the HIPAA privacy rule pertaining to emergency situations and compliance. According to the bulletin, the rule does allow certain entities to disclose protected health information without the authorization of an individual in situations in which there is a substantial concern for public safety and health.

This line can be blurry, however, which means that if you are at all unsure about whether you could be in violation of HIPAA regulations, you should seek the counsel of a health care and HIPAA compliance attorney with Buttaci Leardi & Werner.

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Posted in: Compliance