The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched new tools and initiatives in response to the opioid crisis, as well as updates required by last year’s 21st Century Cures Act.
According to OCR, these tools and initiatives fulfill requirements of the 21st Century Cures Act to ensure that the healthcare sector, researchers, patients, and their families understand how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects privacy and helps improve health and healthcare nationwide.
These actions include the launch of two new HIPAA webpages focused on information related to mental and behavioral health, one for professionals and another for consumers. These webpages reorganize existing guidance to make it more user-friendly and provide a one-stop resource for new guidance and materials. According to OCR, this guidance is an important step forward in clarifying the circumstances under which HIPAA permits a covered entity to disclose information to family members and caregivers.
The guidance for professionals can be accessed here.
The webpages contain new HIPAA guidance on sharing information related to mental health and substance use disorder treatment with a patient's family, friends and others involved in the patient's care or payment for care. The new information includes: a package of fact sheets; an infographic; decision charts, including materials specifically tailored to the parents of children who have a mental health condition; and scenarios that address sharing information when an individual experiences an opioid overdose.
As part of these efforts, OCR also is collaborating with partner agencies within HHS to identify and develop model programs and materials for training healthcare providers, patients, and their families regarding permitted uses and disclosures of the protected health information of patients seeking or undergoing mental health or substance use disorder treatment, and to develop a plan to share the programs and materials with professionals and consumers.
OCR also has updated guidance on HIPAA and research, as called for in the Cures Act, which can be accessed here.
The department also has launched a working group to study and report on the uses and disclosures under HIPAA of protected health information for research purposes. The working group will include representatives from relevant federal agencies as well as researchers, patients, healthcare providers, and experts in healthcare privacy, security, and technology. The working group will release a report addressing whether uses and disclosures of PHI for research purposes should be modified to facilitate research while protecting individuals’ privacy rights.