Health Information Management

Make big plans for big data

HIM-HIPAA Insider, May 12, 2014

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What is big data? It's a way of saying there's a lot of information staring you and your organization in the face. But it's also a reality for the healthcare industry. Figuring out how to work with big data in a secure fashion is a challenge healthcare entities should prepare for, says Reece Hirsch, Esq., of the Morgan Lewis law practice in San Francisco.
"More and more vendors to the healthcare industry are starting to leverage the power of big data to develop new products and services, often relating to population-based health management," Hirsch says. "The problem is that the HIPAA rules governing those uses of PHI by business associates [BA] are often not very clear."
HIPAA has long included information and steps on de-identifying data. It has a checklist of how to de-identify data and enable an organization to use PHI to its benefit while at the same time not revealing the identity of its patients—essentially, it's stripping out identifiers throughout the process of using the PHI.
OCR has provided solid guidance on de-identification, particularly with regard to the "statistical" method of de-identification, Hirsch says. "However, business associates seeking to use big data in de-identified form often find that they haven't adequately secured the right to de-identify their customers' PHI," he notes. This is where covered entities must look for potential problems. Without a provision in a BA agreement expressly permitting de-identification, the BA may not de-identify, Hirsch warns.
Continue reading "Make big plans for big data" on the HCPro website. Subscribers to Briefings on HIPAA have free access to this article in the May issue.

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