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HHS issues guidance on HIPAA compliance when providing audio-only telehealth

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is issuing guidance on how covered health care providers and health plans can use remote communication technologies to provide audio-only telehealth services when such communications are conducted in a manner that is consistent with the applicable requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules, including when OCR’s Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth – PDF is no longer in effect.

This guidance will help individuals to continue to benefit from audio-only telehealth by clarifying how covered entities can provide these services in compliance with the HIPAA Rules and by improving public confidence that covered entities are protecting the privacy and security of their health information.

While telehealth can significantly expand access to health care, certain populations may have difficulty accessing or be unable to access technologies used for audio-video telehealth because of various factors, including financial resources, limited English proficiency, disability, internet access, availability of sufficient broadband, and cell coverage in the geographic area.  Audio-only telehealth, especially using technologies that do not require broadband availability, can help address the needs of some of these individuals.

“Audio telehealth is an important tool to reach patients in rural communities, individuals with disabilities, and others seeking the convenience of remote options. This guidance explains how the HIPAA Rules permit health care providers and plans to offer audio telehealth while protecting the privacy and security of individuals’ health information,” said OCR Director Lisa J. Pino.

The Guidance on How the HIPAA Rules Permit Health Plans and Covered Health Care Providers to Use Remote Communication Technologies for Audio-Only Telehealth may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals

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