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Use of online tracking technologies by HIPAA covered entities and business associates

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | March 21, 2024

HIPAA compliance obligations for regulated entities when using tracking technologies

Regulated entities are required to comply with the HIPAA Rules when using tracking technologies. Some examples of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification requirements that regulated entities must meet when using tracking technologies with access to PHI include:

Ensuring that all disclosures of PHI to tracking technology vendors are specifically permitted by the Privacy Rule and that, unless an exception applies, only the minimum necessary PHI to achieve the intended purpose is disclosed.34
Regulated entities may identify the use of tracking technologies in their website or mobile app’s privacy policy, notice, or terms and conditions of use.35 However, the Privacy Rule does not permit disclosures of PHI to a tracking technology vendor based solely on a regulated entity informing individuals in its privacy policy, notice, or terms and conditions of use that it plans to make such disclosures. Regulated entities must ensure that all tracking technology vendors have signed a BAA and that there is an applicable permission prior to a disclosure of PHI.36
If there is not an applicable Privacy Rule permission or if the vendor is not a business associate of the regulated entity, then the individuals’ HIPAA-compliant authorizations are required before the PHI is disclosed to the vendor. Website banners that ask users to accept or reject a website’s use of tracking technologies, such as cookies, do not constitute a valid HIPAA authorization.
Further, it is insufficient for a tracking technology vendor to agree to remove PHI from the information it receives or de-identify the PHI before the vendor saves the information. Any disclosure of PHI to the vendor without individuals’ authorizations requires the vendor to have a signed BAA in place and requires that there is an applicable Privacy Rule permission for disclosure.
Establishing a BAA with a tracking technology vendor that meets the definition of a “business associate.”
A regulated entity should evaluate its relationship with a tracking technology vendor to determine whether such vendor meets the definition of a business associate and ensure that the disclosures made to such vendor are permitted by the Privacy Rule. A tracking technology vendor is a business associate if it meets the definition of a business associate, regardless of whether the required BAA is in place.37 Moreover, signing an agreement containing the elements of a BAA does not make a tracking technology vendor a business associate if the tracking technology vendor does not meet the business associate definition.

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