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Patricia O'Connell
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Health Care Practice Co-Chair Kirk Nahra Comments on HHS Data-Scrubbing Guidance

November 30, 2012

Kirk Nahra, co-chair of Wiley Rein’s Health Care Practice, was quoted by Law360 in a November 29 article about health care privacy guidance issued by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Office for Civil Rights.

The guidance backed strict definitions of privacy by affirming the validity of current methods for scrubbing identifying information from patients’ records, according to the report. Health data that has been de-identified is exempt from HIPAA rules and can be used for medical research.

The HHS guidance, required under the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, clarifies the type of information that must be removed from data sets. HHS built some flexibility into the guidance and admitted that there is a small risk that identifying information could remain in some data sets even when the required data-scrubbing methods are followed, Law360 reported.

“HHS recognizes that it is not a static process, and they sort of built in some flexibility there,” Mr. Nahra told Law360. “They didn't say that there's a 100 percent chance it won't be identified; they said it's a low risk.”