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Do healthcare organizations need to notify patients about NPP changes?

Do healthcare organizations need to notify patients about NPP changes?

No, healthcare organizations are not required to notify patients about changes to their Notice of Privacy Practices. They are, however, required to take steps to make the information available to patients they have existing treatment relationships with. 


What is a Notice of Privacy Practices?

According to the HHS website, “Your health care provider and health plan must give you a notice that tells you how they may use and share your health information. It must also include your health privacy rights. In most cases, you should receive the notice on your first visit to a provider or in the mail from your health plan. You can also ask for a copy at any time.”

A Notice of Privacy Practices is a document that healthcare providers, insurance plans, and other entities covered by HIPAA need to issue to their patients or clients. This detailed notice informs individuals about how their personal health information is used, shared, and protected by these entities. 

It clearly outlines the patient's rights, including how to access and correct their health records, how to request a restriction on the use of their information, and how to file a complaint if they believe their privacy rights have been violated

This notice makes sure that individuals are fully informed about the handling of their sensitive health information. 

See also: What is a Notice of Privacy Practices?


What could lead to changes in the Notice of Privacy Practices?

  1. Legal and regulatory changes: The most common reason for updates is changes in federal, state, or local laws and regulations. As healthcare privacy laws evolve, such as amendments to HIPAA or new state-level privacy protections, healthcare providers must update their notices to remain compliant with these laws.
  2. Policy adjustments by the provider: Healthcare entities might change their internal policies on how they use or disclose information. For example, they might start using health data for new purposes, such as research or quality improvement initiatives, which would require updates to the notice to reflect these practices.
  3. Technological advancements: As technology evolves, especially in how medical records are stored and shared (like the adoption of electronic health records and health information exchanges), providers need to update their notices to address these changes and ensure they accurately explain how they protect digital information.
  4. Feedback and experience: Healthcare providers might update their notices based on feedback from patients or from experiences with prior privacy breaches or misunderstandings. This can help clarify language or provide additional details to better inform patients about their rights and the safeguards in place.
  5. Organizational changes: If a healthcare provider undergoes organizational changes, such as mergers, acquisitions, or changes in partnerships with other entities, these could affect how patient information is managed and necessitate revisions to the privacy practices notice.

See also: HIPAA's Notice of Privacy Practices requirements for healthcare providers


When do organizations need to notify patients about changes to the Notice of Privacy Practices?

According to 45 CFR 164.520(c)(2)(iv), “Whenever the notice is revised, make the notice available upon request on or after the effective date of the revision and promptly comply with the requirements of paragraph (c)(2)(iii) of this section, if applicable.

Organizations are not required by the HIPAA Privacy Rule to send postal notifications to patients when changes are made to the Notice of Privacy Practices. Instead, healthcare providers who have direct treatment relationships with patients must ensure that the revised notice is readily available upon request as soon as the changes come into effect. 

If the healthcare provider has a physical location where services are provided, they are also required to prominently display the updated notice in a visible area within the facility. The provider must supply the most recent version of the notice to patients at their first service delivery after the notice has been updated

Suppose the provider maintains a customer service website. In that case, the revised notice must also be posted there, ensuring that patients who access services online can easily obtain the most current information regarding their privacy rights and the provider’s practices. 

See also: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide



Can patients request the updated Notice of Privacy Practices electronically?

Yes, patients can request the updated Notice of Privacy Practices electronically if the healthcare provider offers this option. Providers who have a customer service website are also required to post the current notice online.


What happens if a patient does not visit the healthcare facility? How will they know about the updated notice?

If a patient does not visit the healthcare facility, they can still access the updated Notice of Privacy Practices through the provider’s customer service website if it is available online. Otherwise, they may contact the provider’s office to request a copy of the notice electronically or via mail, depending on the options the provider offers.


Are there specific times when a provider must ensure that patients receive the updated Notice of Privacy Practices?

Yes, the updated Notice of Privacy Practices must be provided to patients at their first service delivery after the notice has been updated.


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