In case you didn't get the memo, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched a new website where mobile app developers can ask questions and learn more about the laws regarding patient privacy.

According to a Pew Internet survey, nearly two thirds (64%) of adults in the United States own a smartphone. Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to make and receive calls, browse the web, play games, and even watch streaming HD video straight from our mobile devices. But smartphones are also becoming a tool used among medical professionals, with apps and services designed to streamline their normal operations.

The advent of mobile technology in the healthcare field has created new hurdles for patient privacy, prompting the OCR to launch a new information-based portal where developers can seek answers to their questions.

The new portal, located at http://hipaaqsportal.hhs.gov/a/home, encourages mobile app developers to ask questions about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 and its respective requirements.

OCR launched this platform for mobile health developers and others interested in the intersection of health information technology and HIPAA privacy and security protections. Anyone may browse the site,” explained the OCR on its questions and answers portal. “Users who want to submit questions, offer comments on other submissions or vote on the relevancy of the topic can register using their email addresses, but their identities and addresses are anonymous to OCR.”

Up until now, the OCR's Q&A portal has been nothing more than questions without answers. But it appears that both OCR officials and other members are finally taking the time to respond to developers' questions. One member recently asked if HIPAA addresses patient-generated data, to which the OCR responded by saying that information created by individuals, patients or consumers is NOT subject to HIPAA unless it is received by a covered entity or business associate.

Another user posted a question asking if he or she was classified as a “covered entity” under HIPAA. While the OCR has yet to issue a response, other members have chimed in, citing a statement from the OCR in which it says that only healthplans, healthcare clearinghouses, and healthcare providers are covered entities.

The new Q&A portal is a treasure trove of useful information pertaining to patient privacy and HIPAA. Even if you aren't an app developers, you can still reference this portal for HIPAA-related information.

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