Health Information and Public Health

The Use of Health Information and Public Health

Effective use of information is the foundation of modern public health practice. Public health responses—such as outbreak investigations, prevention strategies for diseases such as cancer, and health system improvements to quality and performance—require timely, accurate health information. As a result, a range of public and private entities use health information to increase our knowledge about, and improve our response to, emerging public health issues, whether aggregated, de-identified, or attributed to individuals who need treatment.

Health information sources, such as electronic health records, health information exchanges, vital records, immunization information systems, syndromic surveillance systems, and other public health databases, can provide critically important data about specific population health needs and effective interventions to practitioners responsible for addressing public health and patient care.

Federal, state, and local laws shape the legal landscape surrounding the use of health information for public health purposes, including addressing legal issues concerning privacy, confidentiality, security, and consent. These laws also support the national health information technology (IT) infrastructure with new and transformative uses of electronic health information. Due to the complexity and development of law in this area of public health practice, PHLP has undertaken legal mapping and legal evaluation studies related to health information and technology.

Understanding both legal authorities and challenges to public health practice is critical to ensuring the effective and appropriate use of health information, safeguarding legal rights and obligations, and promoting the prevention of disease and injury in the US population.

The legal and policy resources below should help public health practitioners, policy makers, and public health lawyers as they explore and shape law and policy around the use of health information.

Health Information & Privacy: FERPA & HIPAA
Health information is regulated by different federal and state laws, depending on the source of the information and the entity entrusted with the information. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) are two examples of federal laws that regulate privacy and the exchange of specific types of information.

Electronic Health Information Legal Epidemiology Assessment Data Set
This legal data set consists of state statutes and regulations in effect as of January 1, 2014, related to electronic health information.

Transitioning From Paper to Digital: State Statutory and Regulatory Frameworks for Health Information Technologyexternal icon
In all health system sectors, electronic health information (EHI) is created, used, released, and reused. This article examines states’ efforts to use law to address EHI uses and discusses the EHI legal environment. Schmit C, Sunshine G, Pepin D, Ramanathan T, Menon A, and Penn M. Public Health Reports 2017; DOI: 10.1177/0033354917722994.

The Role of Law in Supporting Secondary Uses of Electronic Health Informationexternal icon
Federal law, state law, and other legal tools, such as contracts and policies, support data exchange between providers, facilities, and public health departments. This article describes this legal landscape surrounding the secondary use of electronic health information. Ramanathan T, Schmit C, Menon A, and Fox C. The role of law in supporting secondary uses of electronic health information. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 2015;43:48–51. DOI: 10.1111/jlme.12215.

Federal Public Health Laws Supporting Data Use and Sharingpdf icon[PDF 247KB]
Summarizes federal and state laws supporting the use and sharing electronic health data within the developing health information technology landscape.


Disclaimer: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.

Page last reviewed: September 24, 2018