HIPAA / Confidentiality

What is HIPAA and how does it affect data that I want from the Indiana State Department of Health?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), as it relates to the Epidemiology Resource Center (ERC) of the Indiana State Department of Health, involves privacy of medical information (births, deaths, hospital discharge, etc.).

When people request information from the ISDH-ERC, information that would allow for identification of an individual cannot be provided, and certain safeguards are in place to prohibit this identification.  This includes information that could be used alone or in combination with other reasonably available information.  The following information is not available from vital statistics records:

  • Names
  • Social security numbers
  • All geographic subdivisions that are smaller than a State, including street address, city, county, ZIP code
  • The first three digits of a ZIP code may be used if the geographic area formed by combining all ZIP codes with the same three initial digits contains more than 20,000 people; and
  • The first three digits of a ZIP code for all such geographic areas containing 20,000 or fewer people is changed to 000
  • All elements of dates, with the exception of year, for dates directly related to an individual.  This includes birth date, date of death, admission date and discharge date.
  • Any other unique characteristic that would allow identification of a person

Information from vital statistics can sometimes be joined with other information that is readily available - such as voter registration.  ISDH-ERC needs to ensure that any information provided cannot be used with other information to identify an individual.

For example, some people ask for information that they deem is not confidential, since they are not asking for a name.  A request from someone that was adopted and searching for his birth mother may ask for the number of infant boys born at a particular hospital on a specific date may allow that person to identify his birth mother with information from the local newspaper.  ISDH cannot provide this information.

Another example would be the request for the number of infants born with a specific birth anomaly in a specific ZIP code.  This birth anomaly may be uncommon and may allow for the identification of that infant and family.

A further example would be requesting patient-level information from the hospital discharge data set.  All information is aggregated to ensure that the privacy of each individual is protected.

All vital statistics records, once they are received at ISDH, are confidential.  This means that ISDH cannot release the names of people that have died in a certain county for the local newspaper.  County health departments have their own rules for the release of vital records, and they may not all be the same.

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