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As health information grows, sharing it among healthcare providers and researchers is necessary for providing and advancing healthcare services and healthcare research. But the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 severely limits how Protected Health Information (PHI) can be shared. It also has restrictions regarding how to protect it when it is shared.

One way of legally sharing PHI is to de-identify the information. Once PHI has been de-identified, it is no longer protected under HIPAA and may be shared freely without limitation. Information that is properly de-identified may be shared in some cases, and this kind of information is easier to share.

De-identification has to be done diligently

Yet, de-identification is not easy, and if it is not done correctly, the sharing of the information may be considered a breach that requires reporting to HHS and carries the potential for penalties and corrective action plans. Any information that gets released without getting properly de-identified can result in fines and corrective action plans that can run into the millions of dollars. It is hence necessary to ensure that the resulting information is truly de-identified and its use or disclosure will not result in a reportable breach under HIPAA.

Despite the strict controls imposed by HIPAA, a few loopholes such as the patient’s initials, may make it possible to guess vital information about the patient. It is to avoid a scenario such as this that the right process needs to be followed to ensure that data that is shared is shared appropriately, either as identifiable information, as a partially de-identified Limited Data Set, or as properly de-identified information.

Detailed learning on all the areas of de-identification

Clarity on these vital areas will be offered at a webinar that is bring organized by MentorHealth, a leading provider of professional trainings for the areas of healthcare. Jim Sheldon-Dean, who is the founder and director of compliance services at Lewis Creek Systems, LLC, a Vermont-based consulting firm founded in 1982, providing information privacy and security regulatory compliance services to a wide variety of health care entities; will be the speaker at this session.

Please visit to gain valuable guidance on the crucial aspect of de-identification of PHI under HIPAA.

Jim will explain the guidance from the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on how to properly de-identify health information. He will explain the various needs for de-identified information and examine the typical questions that are covered in the guidance. The aim of this discussion is to provide a sound, defensible basis for an organization's decisions and processes surrounding de-identification of PHI.

Commonly used procedures for de-identification

Commonly used procedures for de-identification of Protected Health Information include:

  • Removing all eighteen of the listed identifiers or anything else that might be used to identify the individual about whom the information exists
  • Getting an expert to certify that the information is not identifiable.

Even these steps are not foolproof. More scrutiny is needed to be sure the data cannot be identified. Jim will show the specific steps that a healthcare provider must go through to ensure that de-identification of PHI is carried out properly. He will help the participants explore the concepts and methods of de-identification and many of the typical questions that arise.

The following areas will be covered at this session:

  • De-identification and its Rationale
  • The De-Identification Standard
  • Preparation for De-identification
  • Guidance on Satisfying the Expert Determination Method
  • Who is an expert, how do experts assess the risk of identification of information, what are the approaches by which an expert assesses the risk that health information can be identified, and what are the approaches by which an expert mitigates the risk of identification of an individual in health information
  • Guidance on Satisfying the Safe Harbor Method.

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