The delivery of healthcare in this country may be forever changed following the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing services through telehealth technologies initially allowed providers to connect with patients in a safe and socially distant manner and helped keep vital hospital beds free for COVID-19 care. Now, while still a safe, socially distant option, telehealth allows patients to access healthcare services in an efficient manner, decreases the likelihood of cancellations, and expands access to services that do not require an in-person encounter (i.e., surgery, procedure, or test). Telehealth is now widely reimbursed by both federal and commercial payors and more provider types are able to provide telehealth services within their licensed scope of practice.
While the use of technology by both providers and patients is now commonplace in the industry, protected health information (PHI) must be safe and secure. Providers are still obligated to keep PHI confidential and comply with the rules and requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). An increased frequency of technology introduces another avenue for potential risk and unauthorized uses or disclosures of PHI.
At the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), responsible for enforcing HIPAA, issued a notice of enforcement discretion to not impose penalties against healthcare providers for noncompliance with the regulatory requirements under HIPAA in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth through the duration of the national emergency. As of September 8, 2020, this enforcement discretion is still in place. It will not remain forever and enforcement actions are still at the decision of the OCR. Therefore, in a world with an increased use of technology for healthcare services and the risk of more unauthorized uses or disclosures of PHI, providers should still comply with all of the HIPAA rules and regulations and incorporate telehealth in a compliance plan and/or HIPAA policies and procedures.
The Healthcare and Hospital Law Department at Brennan Manna & Diamond, LLC is here to help account for telehealth and the increased use of technology in your current HIPAA compliance plan to ensure the safety and privacy of the PHI you create and/or maintain. The BMD team can help your practice mitigate risk in the ever changing healthcare delivery world.