OCR Points Steerage to Suppliers and Sufferers on Telehealth Privateness and Safety


Final week, the Workplace for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued two items of steering on the privateness and safety of protected well being data (“PHI”) when utilizing telehealth providers. One of many paperwork is meant to assist well being care suppliers clarify to sufferers, in plain language, the privateness and safety dangers of utilizing distant communication applied sciences for telehealth (the “Supplier Telehealth Steerage”). The opposite supplies tricks to sufferers on how you can safeguard their PHI when utilizing video apps and different applied sciences for telehealth (the “Affected person Telehealth Steerage”).

The COVID-19 public well being emergency (“PHE”) and OCR’s relaxed HIPAA enforcement and restrictions for telehealth communications through the PHE helped catalyze the widespread use of telehealth by well being care suppliers, resulting in extra potential threat to PHI when utilizing telehealth providers. The 2 items of steering proof OCR’s continued consideration to the HIPAA implications of utilizing telehealth providers.

The Supplier Telehealth Steerage clarifies that the Well being Insurance coverage Portability and Accountability Act (collectively, with its implementing rules, “HIPAA”) doesn’t require well being care suppliers to coach sufferers about telehealth dangers. Nonetheless, because the Supplier Telehealth Steerage notes, guaranteeing the privateness and safety of PHI can facilitate simpler communication, thereby enhancing the standard of care. As such, the Supplier Telehealth Steerage is meant to information well being care suppliers who need to voluntarily clarify to sufferers the privateness and safety dangers of telehealth, in addition to methods to scale back these dangers.

The Supplier Telehealth Steerage affords the next recommendation:

  • Previous to the telehealth session, clarify what telehealth is and the distant communication applied sciences used, which can embrace phone, video conferencing apps, messaging applied sciences, and distant affected person monitoring applied sciences.
  • Clarify why well being data privateness and safety are essential, together with prevention of identification theft (medical or monetary), embarrassment, bias, and discrimination.
  • Clarify the potential dangers to PHI when utilizing distant communication applied sciences and how you can mitigate the dangers.
  • Present details about any related distributors’ privateness and safety practices.
  • Inform sufferers that they’ll file a privateness grievance.

The Affected person Telehealth Steerage is meant to offer suggestions on to sufferers on how you can defend and safe their PHI, together with:

  • Be sure to’re in a non-public location on your telehealth appointment.
  • Flip off close by gadgets that will overhear or document data.
  • Use a private pc or cellular machine.
  • Set up out there safety updates.
  • Use sturdy, distinctive passwords.
  • Flip in your lock display operate.
  • Delete well being data in your gadgets when it’s now not wanted.
  • Activate multi-factor authentication the place out there.
  • Activate encryption.
  • Keep away from utilizing public wi-fi networks and USB ports.

Because the Supplier Telehealth Steerage notes, educating sufferers on the privateness and safety dangers of telehealth providers is just not required beneath HIPAA. Nonetheless, doing so may theoretically mitigate the danger of a affected person grievance within the occasion that one thing occurs to the affected person’s PHI throughout or due to a telehealth appointment. Since complaints are one of many two major pathways to an OCR investigation and potential enforcement motion, offering this schooling to sufferers might mitigate enforcement threat.


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