HIPAA Technology and Clinical Research Guidance Library

Clinical Research | Research Uses and Disclosures

1. May a covered entity accept documentation of an external Institutional Review Board’s (IRB) waiver of authorization for purposes of reasonably relying on the request as the minimum necessary?

Yes. The HIPAA Privacy Rule explicitly permits a covered entity to reasonably rely on a researcher’s documentation of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Privacy Board waiver of authorization pursuant to 45 CFR 164.512(i) that the information requested is the minimum necessary for the research purpose. See 45 CFR 164.514(d)(3)(iii). This is true regardless of whether the documentation is obtained from an external IRB or Privacy Board or from one that is associated with the covered entity.

2. How does the Rule help Institutional Review Boards (IRB) handle the additional responsibilities imposed by the HIPAA Privacy Rule?

Recognizing that some institutions may not have Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), or that some IRBs may not have the expertise needed to review research that requires consideration of risks to privacy, the Privacy Rule permits the covered entity to accept documentation of waiver of authorization from an alternative body called a Privacy Board–which could have fewer members, and members with different expertise than IRBs. See the fact sheet and frequently asked questions about the research provisions on this web site for more information about Institutional Review and Privacy Boards.

In addition, the Rule allows an IRB to use expedited review procedures as permitted by the Common Rule to review and approve requests for waiver of authorizations. Similarly, the Rule permits Privacy Boards to use an expedited review process when the research involves no more than a minimal privacy risk to the individuals. An expedited review process permits covered entities to accept documentation of waiver of authorization when only one or more members of the IRB or Privacy Board have conducted the review.

3. By establishing new waiver criteria and authorization requirements, hasn’t the HIPAA Privacy Rule, in effect, modified the Common Rule?

No. Where both the Privacy Rule and the Common Rule apply, both regulations must be followed. The Privacy Rule regulates only the content and conditions of the documentation that covered entities must obtain before using or disclosing protected health information for research purposes.

See our research section and frequently asked questions about the research provisions for more information about the Common Rule.

4. Do the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s requirements for authorization and the Common Rule’s requirements for informed consent differ?

Yes. Under the Privacy Rule, a patient’s authorization is for the use and disclosure of protected health information for research purposes. In contrast, an individual’s informed consent, as required by the Common Rule and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) human subjects regulations, is a consent to participate in the research study as a whole, not simply a consent for the research use or disclosure of protected health information. See our research section and frequently asked questions about the research provisions for more information about the Common Rule.

For this reason, there are important differences between the Privacy Rule’s requirements for individual authorization, and the Common Rule’s and FDA’s requirements for informed consent. However, the Privacy Rule’s authorization elements are compatible with the Common Rule’s informed consent elements. Thus, both sets of requirements can be met by use of a single, combined form, which is permitted by the Privacy Rule.

For example, the Privacy Rule allows the research authorization to state that the authorization will be valid until the conclusion of the research study, or to state that the authorization will not have an expiration date or event. This is compatible with the Common Rule’s requirement for an explanation of the expected duration of the research subject’s participation in the study. It should be noted that where the Privacy Rule, the Common Rule, and/or FDA’s human subjects regulations are applicable, each of the applicable regulations will need to be followed.

5. Can researchers continue to access existing databanks or repositories that are maintained by covered entities, even if those databases were created prior to the compliance date without patient permission or without a waiver of informed consent by an Institutional Review Board (IRB)?

Yes. Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, covered entities may use or disclose protected health information from existing databases or repositories for research purposes either with individual authorization as required at 45 CFR 164.508, or with a waiver of individual authorization as permitted at 45 CFR 164.512(i).

The information presented in our library is for informational purposes only, they are not for implementation in operations. Please consult official HIPAA guidance documents for operational use.

This information was sourced from HIPAA FAQs for Professionals.

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