Lawmakers Urge HHS To Clarify HIPAA Rules for App Developers

September 22, 2014 in News

On Thursday, two House lawmakers sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging the agency to clarify and update HIPAA regulations for mobile application developers, Health Data Management reports.

Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) sent the letter after Marino received a separate letter from ACT | The App Association, in which the group urged Congress to press HHS for more clarity (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 9/19).

Background

In the letter to Marino, ACT | The App Association wrote that HHS has failed to provide developer-friendly online resources about HIPAA privacy rules.

The groups said they face difficulties competing with bigger vendors because they do not have the means to hire lawyers and consultants to stay on top of HIPAA regulations (iHealthBeat, 9/16).

Details of Lawmakers’ Letter

In the letter to Burwell, Marino and DeFazio wrote that HHS has failed to keep up with changes in the mobile health industry, noting that the agency has not updated its regulations for complying with HIPAA privacy rules since 2006, which was “years before an app store existed, much less the modern mobile device” (Hattem, The Hill, 9/19).

Further, the letter noted that while vendors wish to comply with regulations, they are unable to do so because the available guidance does not address the modern technologies they are using. Marino and DeFazio added that guidance should be “routinely updated” as new technologies are introduced (Health Data Management, 9/19).

In addition, Marino and DeFazio suggested that federal officials:

  • Clarify HIPAA obligations for services storing data on the cloud;
  • Offer implementation standards through HHS’ Office for Civil Rights;
  • Update the steps vendors must take to comply with HIPAA; and
  • Recruit employees who can work with startups to produce HIPAA-compliant products.

In a statement, Marino said he hopes HHS will adopt the suggestions to “maintain patient privacy while allowing breakthrough mobile health developments to get to market more quickly” (Pai, MobiHealthNews, 9/19).

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