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Flexibility With HIPAA Compliance In Telehealth During Covid-19

March 19, 2020 Published Article

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has offered a reprieve to covered health care providers who opt to use audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth to patients. In its March 17, 2020 notice, the OCR indicated that it would not impose penalties for noncompliance of the HIPAA Rules in the use of these kinds of technologies nor require business associate agreements before use.

Typically, telehealth technologies require various software privacy protection tools before a healthcare provider can use video chat features to examine patients. The use of these technologies also requires business associate agreements between the healthcare provider and the technology vendor. However, during this unprecedented emergency, any healthcare provider can use their professional judgment to use video chat applications such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, Skype, Zoom, or any other type of video chat application to diagnose and treat patients. This is not limited to diagnosing and treating COVID-19 cases, but all other medical issues. OCR will also not impose penalties against covered healthcare providers for lack of business associate agreements with video communication vendors either.

Under this Notice, public facing video communications such as Facebook Live, TikTok, and similar video communication applications cannot be used.

While, OCR has agreed to reduce its compliance requirements for healthcare providers to use video chat in seeing patients, please keep in mind, all other HIPAA Rules continue to be in effect. This includes protection of medical and personal information of patients.