Archivists with medical information in their collections should become familiar with the new rules regarding the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which will go into effect this March.
Historic records from hospitals or the personal papers of health professionals may contain information regarding patients' health. Many medical archives are not currently repositories for patient records, which are under the purview of departments like Health Information Management which must adhere to strict privacy guidelines. But legacy collections have often been part of an institution's collections for decades, sometimes a century or more. Leather-bound patient ledgers from 150 years ago can be a boon to any researcher interested in the history of medicine for a certain era or location.
Thankfully, the new HIPAA rules from the Department of Health & Human Services provide a bit more guidance for archivists and historians who are not interested in current medical records, but those of deceased individuals.
These modifications are now available online. Archivists, historians, and researchers interested in historic medical records should pay particularly close attention to Section 164.502(f)--Period of Protection for Decedent Information under Protected Health Information About Decedents. Privacy rules will now cover health records up to fifty years after an individual's death. Please see the link below to learn more about this rule and possible exceptions and how they might affect your collection or research.