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New Resource from CHLPI and Feeding America for Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI), together with Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks and pantries, announce the release of Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion: How HIPAA and Concerns about Protecting Patient Information Affect Your Partnership.

Health care providers and payers are increasingly realizing that food insecurity and unmet nutrition needs play a large role in the health outcomes of their patients and beneficiaries. When a patient is hungry, worried about running out of food, or unsure of where her or her family’s next meal will come from, that patient is less likely to be able to follow the medical advice of her health care provider. Food insecurity is also correlated with an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, and worse outcomes related to diabetes among patients who live with limited financial resources. Children in households that are food insecure fall ill more frequently, are hospitalized more often, and take longer to recover after becoming ill. In short, food insecurity is a key social determinant of health.

Food banks and health care providers and payers are forming innovative partnerships to address the nutrition needs of these patients, from providing diabetes-appropriate boxes of food to people with type 2 diabetes to being on site at a clinic in order to actively reach out to families identified as food insecure and give both immediate help accessing healthy food.

However, the efficacy of some of these partnerships is tested by concerns about the ability for health care providers to share relevant patient information with food banks due to HIPAA obligations. The new resource from CHLPI and Feeding America provides an overview of HIPAA rules and regulations and how they affect the activities that food banks and the health care system conduct together. It also helps food banks understand how some of their new health care-related activities might make the food bank itself obligated to comply with HIPAA and looks at the types of resources food banks will need to invest if they hope to adopt information management practices that are HIPAA-compliant.

This resource gives food banks and other community-based service providers the critical HIPAA information they need to become routine health care partners in the effort to address social determinants of health.

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