How many years after a person’s death is PHI protected?

PHI of a deceased individual is safeguarded for a period of 50 years following their death, after which the information is no longer considered PHI under HIPAA, thus easing restrictions on its use and disclosure.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule, which sets standards for the protection of individuals’ medical records and other personal health information, extends these protections to the PHI of deceased individuals. This rule applies to health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and healthcare providers that conduct certain healthcare transactions electronically. The 50-year period of protection is designed to balance privacy concerns with the needs of family members, researchers, and others who may have legitimate reasons for accessing the deceased’s health information. After this period, the information is no longer considered PHI under HIPAA, allowing for greater flexibility in its use and disclosure, which can be particularly relevant for genealogical or historical research purposes.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule grants individuals rights over their health information, including rights to examine and obtain a copy of their health records and request corrections. PHI can only be given out after obtaining written authorization. The HIPAA Privacy Rule restricts healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses from disclosing PHI without patient consent, except for specific purposes like treatment, payment, or healthcare operations. It demands minimum necessary use, meaning entities must make reasonable efforts to use, disclose, or request only the minimum amount of PHI needed to accomplish the intended purpose. The HIPAA Privacy Rule also requires covered entities to implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to prevent unauthorized access to PHI. Additionally, it mandates the provision of privacy practice notices to patients, outlining how their information may be used and their rights regarding their PHI.

About the Author

Elizabeth Hernandez
Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAA News. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked in the healthcare sector for several years. Her expertise is not limited to general healthcare reporting but extends to specialized areas of healthcare compliance and HIPAA compliance. Elizabeth's knowledge in these areas has made her a reliable source for information on the complexities of healthcare regulations. Elizabeth's contribution to the field extends to helping readers understand the importance of patient privacy and secure handling of health information. Elizabeth holds a postgraduate degree in journalism. You can follow Elizabeth on twitter at