Under the HITECH Act, the Department of Health and Human Services is mandated to annually issue guidance on the most effective and appropriate safeguards to cover against reasonably anticipated threats to electronic protected health information.

“Reasonably anticipated” are the key words, notes Marissa Gordon-Nguyen, a health information privacy specialist at the HHS Office for Civil Rights. The department expects “reasonableness” to govern information security decisions because it understands that each covered entity operates under different circumstances and faces unique security risks. She spoke during the Safeguarding Health Information conference in Washington.

OCR also expects organizations to document and justify their I.T. security decisions. If an organization implements a safeguard that is an alternative to an accepted best practice, then “we need to see why it’s reasonable,” Gordon-Nguyen says.

Good documentation of security decisions is more important than ever as OCR last year was given authority--previously given to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services--to enforce the HIPAA security rule and also given more resources to do so.

Draft risk analysis guidance from OCR is available at hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/securityrule.

--Joseph Goedert


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