Are Cloud Service Providers Business Associates under HIPAA and the HITECH Act?

Joseph Lazzarotti writes:

As more companies move to the cloud, regulatory compliance remains a critical issue. For cloud service providers to the healthcare industry, it looks like the requirement to comply with the HIPAA privacy and security rules as business associates will be confirmed when long-awaited final regulations are issued, based on a report by Marianne Kolbasuk McGee with Healthcare Information Security. According to Ms. McGee’s report, Joy Pritts, chief privacy officer in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services, addressed this issue during a Jan. 7 panel discussion on cloud computing hosted by Patient Privacy Rights.

Cloud service providers would prefer to take the position that they are conduits to protected health information, and therefore not business associates, similar to the US Postal Service, and certain private couriers and their electronic equivalents. See HIPAA FAQ.  A conduit transports information but does not access it other than on a random or infrequent basis as necessary for the performance of the transportation service or as required by law. However, HHS has already noted that “a software company that hosts the software containing patient information on its own server or accesses patient information when troubleshooting the software function, is a business associate of a covered entity.”

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