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    HIPAA Regulations: HIPAA Privacy Regulations: Other Requirements Relating to Uses and Disclosures of PHI: Verification Requirements - § 164.514(h)

    As Contained in the HHS HIPAA Privacy Rules

     

    HHS Regulations
    Other Requirements Relating to Uses and Disclosures of PHI: Verification - § 164.514(h)

     

    (h)(1) Standard: Verification requirements. Prior to any disclosure permitted by this subpart, a covered entity must:

    (i) Except with respect to disclosures under §164.510, verify the identity of a person requesting protected health information and the authority of any such person to have access to protected health information under this subpart, if the identity or any such authority of such person is not known to the covered entity; and

    (ii) Obtain any documentation, statements, or representations, whether oral or written, from the person requesting the protected health information when such documentation, statement, or representation is a condition of the disclosure under this subpart.

    (2) Implementation specifications: Verification. (i) Conditions on disclosures. If a disclosure is conditioned by this subpart on particular documentation, statements, or representations from the person requesting the protected health information, a covered entity may rely, if such reliance is reasonable under the circumstances, on documentation, statements, or representations that, on their face, meet the applicable requirements.

    (A) The conditions in §164.512(f)(1)(ii)(C) may be satisfied by the administrative subpoena or similar process or by a separate written statement that, on its face, demonstrates that the applicable requirements have been met.

    (B) The documentation required by §164.512(i)(2) may be satisfied by one or more written statements, provided that each is appropriately dated and signed in accordance with §164.512(i)(2)(i) and (v).

    (ii) Identity of public officials. A covered entity may rely, if such reliance is reasonable under the circumstances, on any of the following to verify identity when the disclosure of protected health information is to a public official or a person acting on behalf of the public official:

    (A) If the request is made in person, presentation of an agency identification badge, other official credentials, or other proof of government status;

    (B) If the request is in writing, the request is on the appropriate government letterhead; or

    (C) If the disclosure is to a person acting on behalf of a public official, a written statement on appropriate government letterhead that the person is acting under the government's authority or other evidence or documentation of agency, such as a contract for services, memorandum of understanding, or purchase order, that establishes that the person is acting on behalf of the public official.

    (iii) Authority of public officials. A covered entity may rely, if such reliance is reasonable under the circumstances, on any of the following to verify authority when the disclosure of protected health information is to a public official or a person acting on behalf of the public official:

    (A) A written statement of the legal authority under which the information is requested, or, if a written statement would be impracticable, an oral statement of such legal authority;

    (B) If a request is made pursuant to legal process, warrant, subpoena, order, or other legal process issued by a grand jury or a judicial or administrative tribunal is presumed to constitute legal authority.

    (iv) Exercise of professional judgment. The verification requirements of this paragraph are met if the covered entity relies on the exercise of professional judgment in making a use or disclosure in accordance with §164.510 or acts on a good faith belief in making a disclosure in accordance with §164.512(j).

     

    HHS Description
    Other Requirements Relating to Uses and Disclosures of PHI: Verification

     

    Disclosure of Protected Health Information

    We reorganize the provision regarding verification of identity of individuals requesting protected health information to improve clarity, but we retain the substance of requirements proposed in the NPRM in § 164.518(c), as follows.

    The covered entity must establish and use written policies and procedures (which may be standard protocols) that are reasonably designed to verify the identity and authority of the requestor where the covered entity does not know the person requesting the protected health information. The knowledge of the person may take the form of a known place of business, address, phone or fax number, as well a known human being. Where documentation, statements or representations, whether oral or written, from the person requesting the protected health information is a condition of disclosure under this rule or other law, this verification must involve obtaining such documentation statement, or representation. In such a case, additional verification is only required where this regulation (or other law) requires additional proof of authority and identity.

    The NPRM proposed that covered entities would be permitted to rely on the required documentation of IRB or privacy board approval to constitute sufficient verification that the person making the request was a researcher and that the research is authorized. The final rule retains this provision.

    For most disclosures, verifying the authority for the request means taking reasonable steps to verify that the request is lawful under this regulation. Additional proof is required by other provisions of this regulation where the request is made pursuant to § 164.512 for national priority purposes. Where the person requesting the protected health information is a public official, covered entities must verify the identity of the requester by examination of reasonable evidence, such as a written statement of identity on agency letterhead, an identification badge, or similar proof of official status. Similarly, covered entities are required to verify the legal authority supporting the request by examination of reasonable evidence, such as a written request provided on agency letterhead that describes the legal authority for requesting the release. Where § 164.512 explicitly requires written evidence of legal process or other authority before a disclosure may be made, a public official's proof of identity and the official's oral statement that the request is authorized by law are not sufficient to constitute the required reasonable evidence of legal authority; under these provisions, only the required written evidence will suffice.

    In some circumstances, a person or entity acting on behalf of a government agency may make a request for disclosure of protected health information under these subsections. For example, public health agencies may contract with a nonprofit agency to collect and analyze certain data. In such cases, the covered entity is required to verify the requestor's identity and authority through examination of reasonable documentation that the requestor is acting on behalf of the government agency. Reasonable evidence includes a written request provided on agency letterhead that describes the legal authority for requesting the release and states that the person or entity is acting under the agency's authority, or other documentation, including a contract, a memorandum of understanding, or purchase order that confirms that the requestor is acting on behalf of the government agency.

    In some circumstances, identity or authority will be verified as part of meeting the underlying requirements for disclosure. For example, a disclosure under § 164.512(j)(1)(i) to avert an imminent threat to safety is lawful only if made in the good faith belief that the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of a person or the public, and to a person reasonably able to prevent or lessen the threat. If these conditions are met, no further verification is needed. In such emergencies, the covered entity is not required to demand written proof that the person requesting the protected health information is legally authorized. Reasonable reliance on verbal representations are appropriate in such situations.

    Similarly, disclosures permitted under § 164.510(a) for facility directories may be made to the general public; the covered entity’s policies and procedures do not need to address verifying the identity and authority for these disclosures. In § 164.510(b) we do not require verification of identity for persons assisting in an individual's care or for notification purposes. For disclosures when the individual is not present, such as when a friend is picking up a prescription, we allow the covered entity to use professional judgment and experience with common practice to make reasonable inferences.

    Under § 164.524, a covered entity is required to give individuals access to protected health information about them (under most circumstances). Under the general verification requirements of § 164.514(h), the covered entity is required to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the individual making the request. We do not mandate particular identification requirements (e.g., drivers license, photo ID), but rather leave this to the discretion of the covered entity. The covered entity must also establish and document procedures for verification of identity and authority of personal representatives, if not known to the entity. For example, a health care provider can require a copy of a power of attorney, or can ask questions to determine that an adult acting for a young child has the requisite relationship to the child.

    In Subpart C of Part 160, we require disclosure to the Secretary for purposes of enforcing this regulation. When a covered entity is asked by the Secretary to disclose protected health information for compliance purposes, the covered entity must verify the same information that it is required to verify for any other law enforcement or oversight request for disclosure.

    Use of Protected Health Information

    The proposed rule’s verification requirements applied to any person requesting protected health information, whether for a use or a disclosure. In the final regulation, the verification provisions apply only to disclosures of protected health information. The requirements in § 164.514(d), for implementation of policies and procedures for ‘minimum necessary’ uses of protected health information, are sufficient to ensure that only appropriate persons within a covered entity will have access to protected health information.

     

    HHS Response to Comments Received
    Other Requirements Relating to Uses and Disclosures of PHI: Verification

     

    Comment: A few commenters suggested that verification guidelines may need to be different as they apply to emergency clinical situations as opposed to routine data collection where delays do not threaten health.

    Response: We agree, and make special provisions in §§ 164.510 and 164.512 for disclosures of protected health information by a covered entity without authorization where the individual is unable to agree or object to disclosure due to incapacity or other emergency circumstance.

    For example, a health care provider may need to make disclosures to family members, close personal friends, and others involved in the individual’s care in emergency situations. Similarly, a health care provider may need to respond to a request from a hospital seeking protected health information in a circumstance described as an emergency. In each case, we require only that the covered entity exercise professional judgment, in the best interest of the patient, in deciding whether to make a disclosure. Based on the comments and our fact finding, this reflects current practice.

    Comment: A few commenters stated the rules should include provisions for electronic verification of identity (such as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)) as established in the regulations on Security and Electronic Signatures. One commenter suggested that some kind of PKI credentialing certificate should be required.

    Response: This regulation does not address specific technical protocols utilized to meet the verification requirements. If the requirements of the rule are otherwise met, the mechanism for meeting them can be determined by the covered entity.

    Comment: A few commenters wanted more clarification on the verification procedures. One commenter wanted to know if contract number is enough for verification. A few commenters wanted to know if a callback or authorization on a letterhead is acceptable. A few commenters wanted to know if plans are considered to “routinely do business” with all of their members.

    Response: In the final rule, we modify the proposed provision and require covered entities to have policies and procedures reasonably designed to verify the identify and authority of persons requesting protected health information. Whether knowledge of a contract number is reasonable evidence of authority and identity will depend on the circumstances. Call-backs and letterhead are typically used today for verification, and are acceptable under this rule if reasonable under the circumstances. For communications with health plan members, the covered entity will already have information about each individual, collected during enrollment, that can be used to establish identity, especially for verbal or electronic inquiries. For example, today many health plans ask for the social security or policy number of individuals seeking information or assistance by telephone. How this verification is done is left up to the covered entity.

    Comment: One commenter expressed the need for consistency on verification requirements between this rule and the Security regulation.

    Response: We will make every effort to ensure consistency prior to publishing the final Security Rule.

    Comment: One commenter stated that the verification language in proposed § 164.518(c)(2)(ii)(B)(1) would have created a presumption that “a request for disclosure made by official legal process issued by a[n] administrative body” is reasonable legal authority to disclose the protected health information. The commenter was concerned that this provision could be interpreted to permit a state agency to demand the disclosure of protected health information merely on the basis of a letter signed by an agency representative. The commenter believed that the rule specifically should defer to state or federal law on the disclosure of protected health information pursuant to legal process.

    Response: The verification provisions in this rule are minimum requirements that covered entities must meet before disclosing protected health information under this regulation. They do not mandate disclosure, nor do they preempt state laws which impose additional restrictions on disclosure. Where state law regarding disclosures is more stringent, the covered entity must adhere to state law.

    Comment: A few commenters wanted the verification requirements to apply to disclosures of protected health information for treatment, payment and operations purposes.

    Response: We agree. This verification requirement applies to all disclosures of protected health information permitted by this rule, including for treatment, payment and operations, where the identity of the recipient is not known to the covered entity. Routine communications between providers, where existing relationships have been established, do not require special verification procedures.

    Comment: A few commenters were concerned that a verbal inquiry for next of kin verification is not consistent with the verification guidelines of this verification subsection and that verbal inquiry would create problems because anyone who purports to be a next of kin could easily obtain information under false pretenses.

    Response: In the final rule in § 164.514, we require the covered entity to verify the identity and authority of persons requesting protected health information, where the identity and authority of such person is not known to the covered entity. This applies to next of kin situations. Procedures for disclosures to next of kin, other family members and persons assisting in an individual’s care are also discussed in § 164.510(b), which allows the covered entity to exercise professional judgment as to whether the disclosure is in the individual’s best interest when the individual is not available to agree to the disclosure or is incapacitated. Requiring written proof of identity in many of these situations, such as when a family member is seeking to locate a relative in an emergency or disaster situation, would create enormous burden without a corresponding enhancement of privacy, and could cause unnecessary delays in these situations. We therefore believe that reliance on professional judgment provides a better framework for balancing the need for privacy with the need to locate and identify individuals.

    Comment: A few commenters stated that the verification requirements will provide great uncertainty to providers who receive authorizations from life, disability income and long-term care insurers in the course of underwriting and claims investigation. They are unaware of any breaches of confidentiality associated with these circumstances and believe the rule creates a solution to a non-existent problem. Another commenter stated that it is too burdensome for health care providers to verify requests that are normally received verbally or via fax.

    Response: This rule requires covered health care providers to adhere to current best practices for verification. That is, when the requester is not known to the covered provider, the provider makes a reasonable effort to determine that the protected health information is being sent to the entity authorized to receive it. Our fact finding reveals that this is often done by sending the information to a recognizable organizational address or if being transmitted by fax or phone by calling the requester back through the main organization switchboard rather than through a direct phone number. We agree that these procedures seem to work reasonably well in current practice and are sufficient to meet the relevant requirements in the final rule.

    Comments: One comment suggested requiring a form of photo identification such as a driver's license or certain personal information such as date of birth to verify the identity of the individual.

    Response: These are exactly the types of standard procedures for verifying the identity of individuals that are envisioned by the final rule. Most health care entities already conduct such procedures successfully. However, it is unwise to prescribe specific means of verification for all situations. Instead, we require policies and procedures reasonably designed for purposes of verification.

    Comment: One professional association said that the example procedure described in the NPRM for asking questions to verify that an adult acting for a young child had the requisite relationship to the child would be quite complex and difficult in practice. The comment asked for specific guidance as to what questions would constitute an adequate attempt to verify such a relationship.

    Response: The final rule requires the covered entity to implement policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to comply with the verification requirement in § 164.514. It would not be possible to create the requested specific guidance which could deal with the infinite variety of situations that providers must face, especially the complex ones such as that described by the commenter. As with many of the requirements of this final rule, health care providers are given latitude and expected to make decisions regarding disclosures, based on their professional judgment and experience with common practice, in the best interest of the individual.

    Comment: One commenter asserted that ascertaining whether a requestor has the appropriate legal authority is beyond the scope of the training or expertise of most employees in a physician’s office. They believe that health care providers must be able to reasonably rely on the authority of the requestor.

    Response: In the final regulation we require covered entities to have policies and procedures reasonably designed to verify the identify and authority of persons requesting health information. Where the requester is a public official and legal authority is at issue, we provide detailed descriptions of the acceptable methods for such verification in the final rule. For others, the covered entity must implement policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to comply with the requirement to verify the identity and authority of a requestor, but only if the requestor is unknown to the covered entity. As described above, we expect these policies and procedures to document currently used best practices and reliance on professional judgment in the best interest of the individual.

    Comment: One commenter expressed concern that the verification/identification procedures may eliminate or significantly reduce their ability to utilize medical records copy services. As written, they believe the NPRM provides the latitude to set up copy service arrangements, but any change that would add restrictions would adversely affect their ability to process an individual’s disability claim.

    Response: The covered entity can establish reasonable policies and procedures to address verification in routine disclosures under business associate agreements, with, for example, medical records copy services. Nothing in the verification provisions would preclude those activities, nor have we significantly modified the NPRM provision on this issue.