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Issue Number 378            April 11, 2003


  1. CDC publishes guidance on HIPAA Privacy Rule and Public Health


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April 11, 2003

On April 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published "HIPAA Privacy Rule  and Public Health: Guidance from CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" as a "MMWR Early Release" report. CDC issues the web-based Early Release only for the immediate release of important public health information. The report will be published in a future issue of "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report."

The report presents an overview of the privacy rule and discusses the privacy rule and public health, the privacy rule and public health research, and the privacy rule and other laws. Two appendices  accompany the report: "Appendix A: Selected Privacy Rule Concepts and Definitions" and "Appendix B: Sample Text That Can Be Used To Clarify Public Health Issues Under the Privacy Rule." The report summary is reprinted below in its entirety.


New national health information privacy standards have been issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of  1996 (HIPAA). The new regulations provide protection for the privacy of certain individually identifiable health data, referred to as protected health information (PHI). Balancing the protection of individual health information with the need to protect public health, the Privacy Rule expressly permits disclosures without individual authorization to public health authorities authorized by law to collect or receive the information for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury, or disability, including but not  limited to public health surveillance, investigation, and intervention.

Public health practice often requires the acquisition, use, and exchange of PHI to perform public health activities (e.g., public health surveillance, program evaluation, terrorism preparedness, outbreak  investigations, direct health services, and public health research). Such information enables public health authorities to implement mandated activities (e.g., identifying, monitoring, and responding to  death, disease, and disability among populations) and accomplish public health objectives. Public  health authorities have a long history of respecting the confidentiality of PHI, and the majority of states as well as the federal government have laws that govern the use of, and serve to protect, identifiable  information collected by public health authorities.

The purpose of this report is to help public health agencies and others understand and interpret their responsibilities under the Privacy Rule. Elsewhere, comprehensive DHHS guidance is located at the HIPAA website of the Office for Civil Rights (


To obtain the complete text of the report online, go to:

To obtain the text of Appendix A online, go to:

To obtain the text of Appendix B online, go to:

To obtain a camera-ready (PDF format) copy of the report, including Appendix A and Appendix B, go to:

To obtain a free electronic subscription to the "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" (MMWR), visit  CDC's MMWR website at: Select "Free Subscription" from the menu at the left of the screen. Once you have submitted the required information, weekly issues of the MMWR and all new ACIP statements (published as MMWR's "Recommendations and Reports") will arrive automatically by email.   

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Editorial Information

  • Editor-in-Chief
    Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH
  • Managing Editor
    John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD
  • Associate Editor
    Sharon G. Humiston, MD, MPH
  • Writer/Publication Coordinator
    Taryn Chapman, MS
    Courtnay Londo, MA
  • Style and Copy Editor
    Marian Deegan, JD
  • Web Edition Managers
    Arkady Shakhnovich
    Jermaine Royes
  • Contributing Writer
    Laurel H. Wood, MPA
  • Technical Reviewer
    Kayla Ohlde

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