The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday outlined plans to try to protect patients’ civil rights and privacy as states move to outlaw abortion, including reaffirming limits on medical professionals’ sharing of information with law enforcement officials.
HHS also offered tips for protecting health information shared with third-party apps. In these efforts, HHS highlighted the role of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule in protecting patients while also effectively showing some limits to federal protection.
The HIPAA rules, for example, generally do not protect the privacy or security of information when it is accessed through or stored on personal cell phones or tablets, with some exceptions for ones developed by organizations covered by federal privacy law, HHS said. Information collected may be sold to data brokers, often selling it for marketing or other purposes.
The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued new guidance addressing how federal law and regulations protect individuals’ private medical information (known as protected health information or PHI) relating to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health care. In it, HHS said that law enforcement officials seeking access to medical records must have court orders or otherwise have met privacy mandates.