Riyad A. Omar


In light of the confusion invited by applying the label "de-identified" to information that can be used to identify patients, it is paramount that regulators, compliance professionals, patient advocates and the general public understand the significant differences between the standards applied by HIPAA and those applied by permissive "de-identification guidelines." This Article discusses those differences in detail. The discussion proceeds in four Parts. Part II (HIPAA’s Heartbeat: Why HIPAA Protects Identifiable Patient Information) examines Congress’s motivations for defining individually identifiable health information broadly, which included to stop the harms patients endured prior to 1996 arising from the commercial sale of their medical records. Part III (Taking the "I" Out of Identifiable Information: HIPAA’s Requirements for De-Identified Health Information) discusses HIPAA’s requirements for de-identification that were never intended to create a loophole for identifiable patient information to escape HIPAA’s protections. Part IV (Anatomy of a Hack: Methods for Labeling Identifiable information "De-Identified") examines the goals, methods, and results of permissive "de-identification guidelines" and compares them to HIPAA’s requirements. Part V (Protecting Un-Protected Health Information) evaluates the suitability of permissive "de-identification guidelines," concluding that the vulnerabilities inherent in their current articulation render them ineffective as a data protection standard. It also discusses ways in which compliance professionals, regulators, and advocates can foster accountability and transparency in the utilization of health information that can be used to identify patients.