Health Information Management

Q&A: HIPAA and census data

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 30, 2010

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Q. Census workers are requesting information about the residents of our group homes to conduct an accurate census. Under HIPAA, what information may we provide to census workers about the residents of group homes?

A. This has been a frequent question this year. HIPAA protects the residents’ personal information only if it pertains to healthcare services provided at the group home or related to an individual’s residency in a group home. General information pertaining to services such as assistance with daily living are not considered healthcare services and not protected by the HIPAA privacy rule. 
However, this does not mean that census workers have unrestricted access to residents’ personal information. Other federal and state laws related to housing and Medicaid rules regulating the privacy of group home residents’ personal information likely protect such information.
Residents should have an opportunity to meet voluntarily with census workers. It would be important to document their willingness to do so and retain this information. Alternatively, workforce members may distribute census questionnaires to residents who understand that they may decline to complete it.
This is a gray area, and this is the first time it has been an issue since the HIPAA privacy rule enforcement date.
Editor’s note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, OR, answered this question in the April 2010 issue of Briefings on HIPAA.

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