Feds change HIPAA rule to facilitate gun background checks

Jeff Rowe
Feds change HIPAA rule to facilitate gun background checks

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has taken a number of steps recently designed to provide greater protections to both patients and the public under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

First, last week, in response to President Obama’s executive actions on gun control, OCR said it will change the rules so that mental health providers can share data with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.  This will allow mental health providers to show the identities of patients subject to a federal mental health prohibitor that prevents them from shipping, transporting or possessing a firearm.

The new rule, however, prohibits mental health providers from sharing any diagnostic or clinical information from medical records or other sources beyond the fact that an person is barred from gun ownership.

In addition, in an attempt to ensure that consumers have overall greater access to their health information, the HHS has also released new guidance on general use of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

"Based on recent studies and our own enforcement experience, far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information, even from entities required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule,” Jocelyn Samuels, director of the HHS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR), wrote in a blog announcing the new release.

“Individuals with access to their health information,” Samuels added, “are better able to monitor chronic conditions, adhere to treatment plans, find and request fixes to errors in their records, track progress in wellness or disease management programs, and directly contribute their information to research.”

With the announcement, OCR also released a guidance document which covers, among other things, information such as patients' general rights to their protected health information; what data is excluded from that right to access; how an individual may request access; and how an entity must provide the information.

Samuels said OCR also will work with the White House Social and Behavioral Science Team and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT on other similar resources for consumers.