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What is HIPAA Safe Harbor de-identification?

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So long as information exists as PHI, its use and disclosure are both limited by the Privacy Rule. HIPAA safe harbor de-identification is the process of the removal of specified identifiers of the patient, and the patient’s relatives, household members, and employers.   

The requirements of the HIPAA safe harbor de-identification process become fully satisfied if, and only if, after the removal of the specific identifiers, the covered entity has no actual knowledge that the remaining information could be used to identify the patient.  

Once protected health information has been de-identified, it is no longer considered to be PHI; as such, there are no longer restrictions on its use or disclosure. By definition, de-identified health information neither identifies nor provides a reasonable basis to identify a patient.