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Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

Office for Civil Rights

Overview

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enforces the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.

Policy

Enforcement of the Privacy Rule began April 14, 2003 for most HIPAA covered entities. HIPAA covered entities were required to comply with the Security Rule beginning on April 20, 2005. OCR became responsible for enforcing the Security Rule on July 27, 2009. [Prior to that time, responsibility for enforcing the HIPAA Security Rule rested with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services].

Authority

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, in Section 13411 of the [Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health] HITECH Act, requires HHS to provide for periodic audits to ensure covered entities and business associates are complying with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and Breach Notification standards. To implement this mandate, OCR is piloting a program to perform up to 150 audits of covered entities to assess privacy and security compliance. Audits conducted during the pilot phase will begin November 2011 and conclude by December 2012.

Conclusion

The audit program serves as a new part of OCR’s health information privacy and security compliance program. OCR will use the audit program to assess HIPAA compliance efforts by a range of covered entities, Audits present a new opportunity to examine mechanisms for compliance, identify best practices and discover risks and vulnerabilities that may not have come to light through OCR’s ongoing complaint investigations and compliance reviews. OCR will broadly share best practices gleaned through the audit process and guidance targeted to observed compliance challenges via this web site and other outreach portals.

From Office for Civil Rights, http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/index.html (accessed Apr. 23, 2012).