Health care data is necessary for public health activities. Public health agencies collect and use identifiable health information for surveillance, disease investigation and other public health purposes. Health care providers and payers provide much of this data to public health agencies, and thus, play an important role in protecting and promoting public health.
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is an important source of data for public health activities. Health care facilities under the jurisdiction of the VHA are a significant component of health care services delivered to the United States population and should be included in public health related reporting and surveillance activities. The estimated veteran population was 22 million as of September 30, 2015. In FY2014, nearly 5.6 million veteran patients received health care services through the VHA including 92.4 million outpatient visits and 707,400 inpatient admissions.
Generally, health care providers and payers may provide identifiable information to public health agencies consistent with the HIPAA Privacy Rule, state privacy laws and state laws that authorize public health activities. However, VHA facilities that provide health care must comply with additional federal laws to provide identifiable health and personal data concerning veterans and their dependents. Public health agencies must understand these laws, criteria that allow disclosure and procedures that must be followed to obtain information from these facilities.
This issue brief provides an overview of these statutes and requirements that permit VHA health facilities to release identifiable data, without the patient’s authorization, to public health agencies. To obtain data from a VHA health facility, the public health agency should contact that facility’s privacy officer for assistance.