OCR Launches New Tools to Help Address the Opioid Crisis

OCR has launched new tools and initiatives as part of its efforts to help address the opioid crisis in the U.S., and fulfil its obligations under the 21st Century Cures Act.

Two new webpages have been released – one for consumers and one for healthcare professionals – that make information relating to mental/behavioral health and HIPAA more easily accessible.

OCR resources have been reorganized to make the HHS website more user-friendly, and the new webpages serve as a one-stop resource explaining when, and under what circumstances, health information can be shared with friends, families, and loved ones to help them deal with, and prevent, emergency situations such as an opioid overdose or a mental health crisis.

OCR has also released new guidance on sharing information related to substance abuse disorder and mental health with individuals involved in the provision of care to patients. The new resources include fact sheets, decision charts, an infographic, and various scenarios that address the sharing of information when an individual has an opioid overdose.  Some of the materials have been developed specifically for parents of children suffering from a mental health condition.

OCR is also collaborating with partner agencies within the HHS to identify and develop further programs and training materials covering the permitted uses and disclosures of PHI when patients seek, or undergo, treatment for mental health disorders or substance abuse disorder.

“HHS is using every tool at its disposal to help communities devastated by opioids including educating families and doctors on how they can share information to help save the lives of loved ones,” said OCR Director, Roger Severino.

The Information Related to Mental and Behavioral Health can be accessed on the links below:

Webpage for consumers

Webpage for healthcare professionals and caregivers

Guidance on HIPAA and Research

OCR has also released updated guidance on HIPAA and research, as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The new guidance explains how the HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to research, including when protected health information can be shared without first obtaining authorization from patients.

OCR explains that HIPAA-covered entities are always permitted to disclose PHI for research purposes if it has been de-identified in accordance with 45 CFR 164.502(d), and 164.514(a)-(c).

If PHI is not de-identified, authorization from patients is required unless the covered entity has obtained Documented Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Privacy Board Approval. In the guidance, OCR explains the criteria that must be satisfied to receive such approval.

The guidance can be viewed here.

OCR has also formed a working group that includes representatives of several federal agencies, patients, researchers, healthcare providers, privacy, security and technology experts. The working group will study uses and disclosures of PHI for research and the group will report on whether those uses and disclosures should be modified to facilitate research while ensuring individuals’ privacy rights are protected.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.