HIPAA protects the rights and privacy of patients, but it can create barriers for historical research.

Photo credit: HIPAA logo


On August 21, 1996, The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted. The goals of this act were to increase the number of Americans with health insurance and make the entire sytem more efficient.

As the internet became a more integral part of American society and businesses, medical providers wanted to protect the rights of their patients. Realizing the risk internet can have on patient privacy, Congress included a privacy policy in HIPAA. This mandated the security stadards for all electronic health care information nationwide. The privacy policy requires medical professionals to only release information to the patient or authorized persons listed on the HIPAA form.

Although HIPAA provides protection for the rights of patients, it has created unintented difficulties for historical researchers. Since patient records must be held confidential indefinitely, researchers are less likely to be able to access information, even after the patient has died. The only way to release records to a researcher is to go through a lengthy process with the State. In most cases, these research requests are heavily redacted or denied all together.


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