NRPM: Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information. b. Minimum necessary use and disclosure.

11/03/1999

The decisions called for in determining what would be the minimum necessary information to accomplish an allowable purpose should include both a respect for the privacy rights of the subjects of the medical record and the reasonable ability of covered entities to delimit the amount of individually identifiable health information in otherwise permitted uses and disclosures. For example, a large enterprise that makes frequent electronic disclosures of similar data would be expected to remove identifiers or to limit the data fields that are disclosed to fit the purpose of the disclosure. An individual physician’s office would not be expected to have the same capabilities to limit the amount of information disclosed, although, in the cases of disclosures involving a small number of records, such an office could be expected to hide identifiers or to limit disclosures to certain pages of the medical record that are relevant to the purpose of the disclosure.

We understand that the requirements outlined in this section do not create a bright line test for determining the minimum necessary amount of protected health information appropriate for most uses or disclosures. Because of this lack of precision, we considered eliminating the requirement altogether. We also considered merely requiring covered entities to address the concept within their internal privacy procedures, with no further guidance as to how each covered entity would address the issue. These approaches were rejected because minimizing both the amount of protected health information used and disclosed within the health care system and the number of persons who have access to such information is vital if we are to successfully enhance the confidentiality of people’s personal health information. We invite comments on the approach that we have adopted and on alternative methods of implementing the minimum necessary principle.