Health Information Management

HIPAA Q&A: You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers!

HIM-HIPAA Insider, August 10, 2015

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Submit your HIPAA questions to Editor John Castelluccio at and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.
Q: What are the requirements hospitals must follow under HIPAA’s privacy and security rules when they dispose of patients’ PHI?
A: PHI must be disposed in a manner that protects its confidentiality, but the Privacy and Security Rules do not require a particular disposal method.
Paper documents may be shredded, pulped, pulverized, or incinerated on-site or taken to a recycling facility by a reliable vendor.
Electronic storage media can be destroyed by clearing, which involves using software or hardware products to over-write media with non-sensitive data. Another acceptable method of disposal is purging, which involves degaussing or exposing the media to a strong magnetic field to disrupt the recorded magnetic domains (some may opt to destroy the media by means of disintegration, pulverization, melting, incinerating, shredding).
Labeled prescription bottles and other PHI may be kept in opaque bags in a secure area until picked up by a disposal vendor to be shredded or otherwise destroyed.
The Office for Civil Rights addresses this issue in an online document entitled, “Frequently Asked Questions About the Disposal of Protected Health Information.”

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, a healthcare consultant in Temple, Texas, answered this question for HCPro’s 
Briefings on HIPAA newsletter. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.

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