HIPAA privacy rule and public health. Guidance from CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

MMWR Suppl. 2003 May 2;52:1-17, 19-20.


New national health information privacy standards have been issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The new regulations provide protection for the privacy of certain individually identifiable health data, referred to as protected health information (PHI). Balancing the protection of individual health information with the need to protect public health, the Privacy Rule expressly permits disclosures without individual authorization to public health authorities authorized by law to collect or receive the information for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury or disability including but not limited to public health surveillance, investigation, and intervention. Public health practice often requires the acquisition, use, and exchange of PHI to perform public health activities (e.g., public health surveillance, program evaluation, terrorism preparedness, outbreak investigations, direct health services, and public health research). Such information enables public health authorities to implement mandated activities (e.g., identifying, monitoring, and responding to death, disease, and disability among populations) and accomplish public health objectives. Public health authorities have a long history of respecting the confidentiality of PHI, and the majority of states as well as the federal government have laws that govern the use of, and serve to protect, identifiable information collected by public health authorities. The purpose of this report is to help public health agencies and others understand and interpret their responsibilities under the Privacy Rule. Elsewhere, comprehensive DHHS guidance is located at the HIPAA website of the Office for Civil Rights (http://www. hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/).

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality / standards*
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act*
  • Privacy*
  • Public Health Practice / standards*
  • United States