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HIPAA at home: Remote workers and the Security Rule

Nick Weil (nick.weil@ankura.com) is Director, Data Privacy and Compliance, at Ankura Consulting, living in Omaha, NE.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues throughout the country and the world, most employers have elected (or been directed) to send nonessential personnel home to work remotely. With the high uncertainty about when a vaccine will be available and how effective it will be,[1] it is safe to say remote work will be a short- to medium-term reality at least. It may also be a long-term reality; public health necessity could accelerate a preexisting trend toward telecommuting across all industries and all sectors. For months and years to come, compliance professionals should be prepared to answer questions and develop protocols for complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)[2] at home.

For HIPAA-covered entities, much of the workforce is clinical and patient-facing, and so remote work from home is not available in any circumstance. But many health systems have sent nonessential staff to home offices—from personnel managers to case managers, compliance officers to coders. For business associates not directly serving patients or providing an essential service, many staff are now remote. Despite some HIPAA waivers being issued due to the pandemic, both covered entities and business associates are still expected to comply with the Security Rule. With many homes now hosting spouses and children during work hours, it is a good time to review some of the HIPAA requirements for a secure workspace.

This article will focus on the HIPAA Security Rule’s provisions for the protection of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and consider how they should be reviewed and implemented in light of shelter-in-place and remote situations. We will also look briefly at the HIPAA Privacy Rule and consider some practical takeaways for privacy officers and compliance professionals.

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