The Unclear Soup of HIPA, American Red Cross, Health & Welfare Messages

As usual for the Amateur Radio & American Red Cross (ARC) answers are illusive, guidance incomplete and, well…. “unclear” – from the ARRL Website:

American Red Cross Clarifies Amateur Radio Policy

On September 3, the American Red Cross released a statement to clarify their policy as it concerns Amateur Radio operators. The letter below from American Red Cross Disaster Service Technology Manager Keith Robertory, KG4UIR, is presented in its entirety:

There has recently been some posting on amateur radio discussion groups on the Internet that is carrying false or misleading information. The Red Cross does not have a policy against amateur radio participating in passing health and welfare messages. In fact, we recognize the importance of amateur radio in being a vital method for people to get registered.

The American Red Cross welcomes the support of Amateur Radio Operators in connecting friends and family members together through our health and welfare programs. The grassroots, independent nature of Amateur Radio Operators in communities around the country make them well suited for this task.

General welfare messages are processed through the Red Cross Safe and Well web site. This site allows people to register their status which can be checked by friends and family who search by your name, address or phone number. A quick look at the website will show how both the registration process and search are done.

As few as two hams can setup an effective registration process. A ham located in the disaster zone can use any mode to transmit the basic Safe and Well registration information to another ham located outside the disaster who would enter the information on the web site. This quick ad-hoc setup doesn‘t rely on any affiliations and can be established by a call out to another ham who can help.

The Red Cross also processes welfare inquiry messages that contain specific medical information. These contain more sensitive and personally identifiable information at the same time that the Red Cross keeps confidential to respect client privacy. We are researching if and how these messages can be passed across open frequencies, and what federal restrictions (such as HIPPA) may be impact how this is done.

Thank you,

Keith Robertory
Disaster Service Technology Manager, American Red Cross


Apparently the ARC is struggling with HIPA (Health Information Privacy Act of 1999) HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and the  communications requirements of Amateur Radio limiting encryption for secrecy.  

It would seem this is fairly easy to resolve, Amateur Radio is bound by a current version of “Part 97” that does not allow for encryption of the type & for the reasons that the Health Information Privacy Act (HIPA) Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires of the ARC.

Therefore HIPA HIPAA regulated information cannot be transfered by Amateur Radio’s techniques unless a release to do so is provided by the protected information’s owner.

Maybe I have this wrong, but it sure seems simple enough.



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4 thoughts on “The Unclear Soup of HIPA, American Red Cross, Health & Welfare Messages

  1. Mark Morgan KB9RQZ says:

    what needs to happen is adding H&w messages to things that can be encrypted like control signal for sats and repeaters and the few other cases

    bu t doesn’t some provision allow for encryption where the signal is retain so it can be presented the FCC if they haave need it came in with SS tech?

  2. k9zw says:

    Hi Mark KB9RQZ !

    I was unable to find anything in Part 97 allowing an amateur station to transmit an encrypted message, where the intent of the encryption was to secure the information within the message, outside of the very limited provisions for control needs of AMSAT type operations.

    Nor could I find any mention of retaining a “clear copy” for potential FCC review while transmitting an encoded version. As common sense as it might sound this would not work in light of HIPA, as the “patient’s data” could potential be exposed to medically unauthorized FCC representatives.

    Perhaps someone else has a better understanding of HIPA HIPAA and Part 97, as a layperson’s reading shows HIPA HIPAA and Part 97 unable to be reconciled.



  3. Dave KB3JRJ says:

    HIPAA is the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” passed in 1996. As it relates to Amateur Radio, it mandates strict controls on an individual’s health information, who has access to it, and under what circumstances. If you were to call a hospital emergency room to check on the status of a friend, HIPAA is why the hospital can’t tell you (unless the friend has specified that they can tell you IN WRITING).
    As a ham studying one of the allied health professions (namely radiography), I am keenly aware of HIPAA and the controls it placed. Many people in the medical field have been fired on the spot for HIPAA violations. It is taken VERY seriously.

  4. k9zw says:

    Hi Dave KB3JRJ !

    Thank you for helping me wade through the Privileged Information rules correctly.

    HIPA 1999 never made it to Law, where HIPAA 1996 definitely is law.

    I’ve edited by original post to correct this.

    A decent write up of the complexity of this information issue is:

    The origins of the idea of protected medical information is not new:

    Whatsoever things I see or hear concerning the life of men, in my attendance on the sick or even apart therefrom, which ought not be noised abroad, I will keep silence thereon, counting such things to be as sacred secrets.

    – Oath of Hippocrates, 4th Century, B.C.E.

    Seems to sum it up well!

    Thank you again for the help!



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