Critical Path Network

HHS issues Privacy Rule decision tool

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights has issued a decision tool for disclosures for emergency preparedness under HIPAA.

The document says emergency preparedness and recovery planners are interested in availability of information they need to serve people in the event of an emergency. For example, planners seek to meet the special needs of the elderly or people with disabilities in the event of an evacuation.

HIPAA's Privacy Rule permits covered entities to disclose protected health information for a variety of purposes. The Office of Civil Rights says the tool presents avenues of information flow that could apply to emergency preparedness activities.

Emergency preparedness

The rules regarding the use and disclosure of protected health information could apply to all individuals, with no special rules applying to particular populations, such as persons with disabilities.

The Office of Civil Rights says the tool does not address other federal, state, or local confidentiality rules that may apply in specific circumstances. For example, disclosures permitted by the Privacy Rule for public health would generally be prohibited under federal substance abuse confidentiality law. Because the tool focuses on issues relevant to emergency preparedness, the tool does not present all the uses and disclosures permitted by the Privacy Rule, nor does it discuss all the rule's requirements.

To guide planners in determining how the Privacy Rule applies to disclosures for emergency preparedness, the tool focuses on the source of the information being disclosed, to whom the information is being disclosed, and the purpose of the information being disclosed.

More information is available on-line at