Thursday, August 18, 2022
HomeHealth LawOCR points HIPAA steering on audio-only telehealth providers

OCR points HIPAA steering on audio-only telehealth providers


On June 13, 2022, the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers, Workplace for Civil Rights (“OCR”), issued steering on how lined entities and enterprise associates can use distant communication applied sciences for audio-only telehealth in a HIPAA-compliant method following the top of the nationwide COVID-19 public well being emergency (“PHE”).  OCR had beforehand issued steering in 2020 informing the general public that it might not impose penalties in opposition to well being care suppliers for noncompliance with the HIPAA guidelines in reference to the great religion provision of telehealth providers throughout the COVID-19 PHE. The brand new steering is issued to help the continuation of expanded entry to care by way of audio-only telehealth providers.

The brand new steering consists of responses to 4 continuously requested questions (“FAQs”) relating to compliance with the HIPAA privateness and safety guidelines in reference to audio-only telehealth providers. These FAQs cowl the next subjects:

  1. Whether or not the HIPAA Privateness Rule permits well being care suppliers and well being plans to make use of distant communication applied sciences to offer audio-only telehealth providers?
    • The OCR clarified that such apply is permissible supplied that cheap safeguards for safeguarding the privateness of protected well being info (“PHI”) from impermissible makes use of or disclosures are utilized when offering telehealth providers. Examples of such safeguards embrace the supply of telehealth providers in non-public settings, not utilizing speakerphone and utilizing lowered voices to restrict incidental makes use of or disclosures of PHI. As well as, verification of the affected person’s id is required, which can be carried out both orally or in writing (together with utilizing digital strategies).
  2. Whether or not well being care suppliers and well being plans have to satisfy HIPAA Safety Rule necessities to make use of distant communication applied sciences to offer audio-only telehealth providers?
    • The OCR clarified that the HIPAA Safety Rule doesn’t apply to audio-only telehealth providers supplied utilizing a phone landline as a result of the data transmitted just isn’t digital. Nevertheless, the HIPAA Safety Rule does apply to using digital communication applied sciences, corresponding to communication apps on a smartphone or different computing machine, Voice over Web Protocol (VoIP) applied sciences, applied sciences that electronically report or transcribe a telehealth session, and messaging providers that electronically retailer audio messages. Thus, lined entities want to handle safety dangers and vulnerabilities to digital PHI when utilizing these applied sciences as a part of the danger evaluation and threat administration processes.
  3. Whether or not a well being care supplier or a well being plan might conduct audio-only telehealth utilizing distant communication applied sciences with out a enterprise affiliate settlement (“BAA”) with the seller?
    • According to its prior place on the problem, the OCR acknowledged that HIPAA doesn’t require a BAA between a supplier and vendor the place the seller solely has transient entry to PHI it transmits throughout a name as a result of the seller is merely performing as a conduit for the PHI and isn’t creating, receiving, or sustaining PHI on behalf of the supplier. For example, a BAA just isn’t required the place a supplier conducts an audio-only telehealth session with a affected person utilizing a smartphone and the seller’s sole position is connecting the decision. Nevertheless, a supplier must enter right into a BAA with a vendor that’s greater than a mere conduit for PHI. For instance, a BAA is required the place the seller’s smartphone app shops PHI (e.g., recordings, transcripts) or interprets oral communications to a different language (and due to this fact creates and receives PHI) to offer significant entry to people with restricted English proficiency.
  4. Whether or not well being care suppliers might use distant communication applied sciences to offer audio-only telehealth if a person’s well being plan doesn’t present protection for these providers?
    • OCR famous that suppliers might supply audio-only telehealth providers utilizing distant communication applied sciences in keeping with the necessities of the HIPAA Guidelines, no matter whether or not any well being plan covers or pays for these service.

OCR’s new HIPAA steering on utilizing distant communication applied sciences for audio-only telehealth could be discovered right here.

Milada Goturi and Kevin Kifer are members of Thompson Coburn’s well being care apply.

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