What is a covered entity’s obligation under the Breach Notification Rule if it transmits an individual’s PHI to a third party designated by the individual in an access request, and the entity discovers the information was breached in transit?
This guidance remains in effect only to the extent that it is consistent with the court’s order in Ciox Health, LLC v. Azar, No. 18-cv-0040 (D.D.C. January 23, 2020), which may be found at https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2018cv0040-51. More information about the order is available at https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/court-order-right-of-access/index.html. Any provision within this guidance that has been vacated by the Ciox Health decision is rescinded.
If a covered entity discovers that the PHI was breached in transit to the designated third party, and the PHI was “unsecured PHI” as defined at 45 CFR 164.402, the covered entity generally is obligated to notify the individual and HHS of the breach and otherwise comply with the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule at 45 CFR 164, Subpart D. However, if the individual requested that the covered entity transmit the PHI in an unsecure manner (e.g., unencrypted), and, after being warned of the security risks to the PHI associated with the unsecure transmission, maintained her preference to have the PHI sent in that manner, the covered entity is not responsible for a disclosure of PHI while in transmission to the designated third party, including any breach notification obligations that would otherwise be required. Further, a covered entity is not liable for what happens to the PHI once the designated third party receives the information as directed by the individual in the access request.
Where the PHI that was breached is “secured” as provided for in the HHS Guidance Specifying the Technologies and Methodologies that Render Protected Health Information Unusable, Unreadable, or Indecipherable to Unauthorized Individuals (available at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/breachnotificationrule/index.html), the covered entity does not have reporting obligations under the Breach Notification Rule.