Physician Practice

Q&A: HIPAA requirements for medical records released on CDs

Physician Practice Insider, October 6, 2015

Q: The company I work for has long debated what to do about medical records that are sent out on CDs. We concluded that since paper records could not be encrypted, we shouldn't have to worry about encrypting the CDs.

Should we encrypt and/or password-protect these CDs? If yes, is there a similar practice associated with protecting paper records that are sent through the mail? HIPAA can be so gray, so any advice you can offer would be appreciated.

A: It is wise to encrypt and password-protect CDs. Encrypting CDs is not complex or expensive. If it's electronic and it's portable, it should be encrypted. This is also a relatively common practice.
There really is no ideal way to protect paper. However, if the paper record is sent via the U.S. Postal Service, there are mail tampering laws that provide some protections in the event mail is stolen or tampered with. It's not the perfect solution, but it's the best solution there is at this time to protect paper medical records that are sent via the mail.

In the end, it's the responsibility of covered entities and business associates to take reasonable steps to protect any PHI, paper or otherwise, that is transmitted (in this case physically transmitted). That means the best practice is to encrypt CDs that are used to send copies of medical records.

Editor's note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, Oregon, answered this question in the October issue of Briefings on HIPAA.

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