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OCR HIPAA Privacy December 3, 2002 Revised April 3, 2003

[45 CFR 164.501, 164.508, 164.512(i)] [See also 45 CFR 164.514(e), 164.528, 164.532]
PDF version of this notice


The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes the conditions under which protected health information may be used or disclosed by covered entities for research purposes. Research is defined in the Privacy Rule as, “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing, and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” See 45 CFR 164.501. A covered entity may always use or disclose for research purposes health information which has been de-identified (in accordance with 45 CFR 164.502(d), and 164.514(a)-(c) of the Rule) without regard to the provisions below.

The Privacy Rule also defines the means by which individuals will be informed of uses and disclosures of their medical information for research purposes, and their rights to access information about them held by covered entities. Where research is concerned, the Privacy Rule protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information, while at the same time ensuring that researchers continue to have access to medical information necessary to conduct vital research. Currently, most research involving human subjects operates under the Common Rule (45 CFR Part 46, Subpart A) and/or the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) human subject protection regulations (21 CFR Parts 50 and 56), which have some provisions that are similar to, but separate from, the Privacy Rule’s provisions for research. These human subject protection regulations, which apply to most Federally-funded and to some privately funded research, include protections to help ensure the privacy of subjects and the confidentiality of information. The Privacy Rule builds upon these existing Federal protections. More importantly, the Privacy Rule creates equal standards of privacy protection for research governed by the existing Federal human subject regulations and research that is not.

How the Rule Works

In the course of conducting research, researchers may obtain, create, use, and/or disclose individually identifiable health information. Under the Privacy Rule, covered entities are permitted to use and disclose protected health information for research with individual authorization, or without individual authorization under limited circumstances set forth in the Privacy Rule.

Research Use/Disclosure Without Authorization.  To use or disclose protected health information without authorization by the research participant, a covered entity must obtain one of the following:

Research Use/Disclosure With Individual Authorization.  The Privacy Rule also permits covered entities to use or disclose protected health information for research purposes when a research participant authorizes the use or disclosure of information about him or herself. Today, for example, a research participant’s authorization will typically be sought for most clinical trials and some records research. In this case, documentation of IRB or Privacy Board approval of a waiver of authorization is not required for the use or disclosure of protected health information.

To use or disclose protected health information with authorization by the research participant, the covered entity must obtain an authorization that satisfies the requirements of 45 CFR 164.508. The Privacy Rule has a general set of authorization requirements that apply to all uses and disclosures, including those for research purposes. However, several special provisions apply to research authorizations:

Accounting for Research Disclosures. In general, the Privacy Rule gives individuals the right to receive an accounting of certain disclosures of protected health information made by a covered entity. See 45 CFR 164.528. This accounting must include disclosures of protected health information that occurred during the six years prior to the individual’s request for an accounting, or since the applicable compliance date (whichever is sooner), and must include specified information regarding each disclosure. A more general accounting is permitted for subsequent multiple disclosures to the same person or entity for a single purpose. See 45 CFR 164.528(b)(3). Among the types of disclosures that are exempt from this accounting requirement are:

In addition, for disclosures of protected health information for research purposes without the individual’s authorization pursuant to 45 CFR164.512(i), and that involve at least 50 records, the Privacy Rule allows for a simplified accounting of such disclosures by covered entities. Under this simplified accounting provision, covered entities may provide individuals with a list of all protocols for which the patient’s protected health information may have been disclosed under 45 CFR 164.512(i), as well as the researcher’s name and contact information. Other requirements related to this simplified accounting provision are found in 45 CFR 164.528(b)(4).

Transition Provisions. Under the Privacy Rule, a covered entity may use and disclose protected health information that was created or received for research, either before or after the compliance date, if the covered entity obtained any one of the following prior to the compliance date:

However, if a waiver of informed consent was obtained prior to the compliance date, but informed consent is subsequently sought after the compliance date, the covered entity must obtain the individual’s authorization as required at 45 CFR 164.508. For example, if there was a temporary waiver of informed consent for emergency research under the FDA’s human subject protection regulations, and informed consent was later sought after the compliance date, individual authorization would be required before the covered entity could use or disclose protected health information for the research after the waiver of informed consent was no longer valid.

The Privacy Rule allows covered entities to rely on such express legal permission, informed consent, or IRB-approved waiver of informed consent, which they create or receive before the applicable compliance date, to use and disclose protected health information for specific research studies, as well as for future unspecified research that may be included in such permission.

To see the various section of 45 CFR 164 (that are referenced above), click the following link:

To see Privacy Rule FAQs, click the desired link below:
FAQs on Research Uses and Disclosures

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