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OCR revamps HIPAA guidance in wake of opioid crisis, 21st Century Cures rules

HHS Office for Civil Rights offers new perspective on the privacy law as it relates to mental health and substance abuse, clinical research.

Mike Miliard, Editor, Healthcare IT News

As it works to implement the provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, the Office for Civil Rights is also keeping an eye on the data sharing needs of the ongoing opioid crisis. In response to both, the HHS office has published some new information related to HIPAA.

OCR has launched two new websites – one for patients and their families and another for providers – related to how HIPAA applies to mental and behavioral health information.

The sites are meant to reorganize existing HIPAA provisions to make the guidance more user-friendly, officials say, offering central location for new materials and clarify the circumstances under which HIPAA allows covered entities to disclose information, especially that related to mental health and substance use disorders, to family and caregivers.

The aim is to ensure families and caregivers can have access to the information needed to prevent and address emergencies, such as opioid overdoses and mental health crises, while also protecting patient privacy.

The new documents include guidance tailored to the parents of children with mental health conditions, and offers different scenarios for how protected health information can be shared when an person experiences an opioid overdose.

HHS says it is working with other agencies to create model programs and materials for training providers, patients and families about permitted uses and disclosures of PHI in cases where patients seek or undergo mental health or substance use disorder treatment.

New rules on research to be explored

OCR is also pivoting toward updated HIPAA guidance on research, as specified in the 21st Century Cures Act. It has launched a working group, charged with studying and reporting on the uses and disclosures of PHI for research purposes, that will comprise representatives from federal agencies, researchers, patients and providers – as well as experts in healthcare privacy, security and technology.

Officials say 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.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

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