The guide provides information on what is protected – and what is not – when using menstrual trackers and other health information apps on smartphones.
After the judgment of the Supreme Court in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where the right to safe and legal abortion has been taken away, President Biden and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra called on HHS authorities to take action to increase access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion , Pregnancy, protect complications and other related treatments. In direct response, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today issued new guidance to protect patients who receive reproductive health care and their providers.
In general, the guide does two things:
- addresses how federal laws and regulations protect individuals’ private medical information (known as Protected Health Information, or PHI) related to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health care—clarifying that providers are under no obligation to disclose private medical information to third parties ; and
- addresses the extent to which private medical information is protected on personal cell phones and tablets, and provides tips on protecting individuals’ privacy when using period trackers and other health information apps.
According to recent reports, many patients are concerned that menstrual trackers and other health information apps on smartphones could compromise their right to privacy by exposing geolocation data, which could be misused by those who wish to refuse treatment.
“How you access healthcare should not make you a target of discrimination. HHS stands by patients and providers to protect HIPAA privacy rights and reproductive health information,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Anyone who believes their privacy rights have been violated can lodge a complaint with OCR as we make this an enforcement priority. Today’s action is part of my commitment to President Biden to protect access to health care, including abortion and other forms of sexual and reproductive health care.”
This guide addresses the circumstances in which the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) permit disclosure of PHI without an individual’s authorization. It explains that disclosures for non-healthcare purposes, such as B. Disclosures to law enforcement officials are permitted only in limited circumstances designed to protect individuals’ privacy and support their access to health care, including abortion treatment. Specifically the instructions:
OCR also issues information to individuals to protect the privacy and security of their health information when using their personal mobile phone or tablet. This guidance explains that, in most cases, the HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification rules do not protect the privacy or security of individuals’ health information when they access or store the information on personal cell phones or tablets. This guide also provides tips on steps a person can take to reduce how their cell phone or tablet collects and shares their health and other personal information without the person’s knowledge. This guide:
- Explains how to disable location services on Apple and Android devices.
- Identifies best practices for selecting apps, browsers, and search engines that are recognized as supporting greater privacy and security.
For guidance on the HIPAA Privacy Rule and Disclosure of Information Related to Reproductive Health Care, visit https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/phi-reproductive-health/index.html.
For guidance on protecting the privacy and security of your health information when using your personal cell phone or tablet, visit https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/cell-phone-hipaa/index.html .
If you believe that a HIPAA covered entity or its business partner has violated your (or anyone else’s) health information privacy rights or otherwise violated privacy, security, or violation reporting rules, you may file a complaint at https: //www .hhs.gov/hipaa/filing-a-complaint/index.html.
For more information on how HHS works to protect reproductive rights, visit ReproductiveRights.gov.