Reader Question: Are Photographs PHI Identifiers?

Thu, Mar 18, 2010

HIT Help Desk

Question: For demonstration purposes in a sales context, if a picture or video of a patient were used with no identifying information, would this violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?

Answer: A photo is an identifier, explains Kristen Rosati, a partner at Coppersmith Gordon Schermer Owens & Nelson. Why? Read on …

She says the Department of Health and Human Services lists photos as identifiers, “and therefore any photos where you can tell an individual’s identity are treated as protected health information.” That means any disclosure of that photo has to be viewed under HIPAA, but the legality of that disclosure depends on how you’re using the information, she notes.

There are a lot of issues that need to be evaluated to determine whether that disclosure would count as a violation, but what you do need to know is that disclosure of a photo is a disclosure of…

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