Office for Civil Rights (OCR) definition

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Guide to healthcare compliance resources and agencies

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is an organization within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). OCR works closely with both doctors and patients to ensure that every patient knows their rights and privacies concerning personal health information and medical treatment options. 

With the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH Act, calling for the widespread adoption of electronic health record (EHR) technology, many patients and their families are concerned that electronic information is more susceptible to a data breach than traditional paper-based files. The OCR helps organizations teach health and social service workers about the civil rights, health information privacy and patient confidentiality laws that they, as medical professionals, must follow. 

As a government agency, the OCR also investigates health information privacy and patient safety confidentiality complaints to decide if a discriminatory act or a violation of law has occurred and takes action to correct those problems. Under the HITECH Act's updates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the OCR can levy significant fines to health care providers and their business associates if personal health information is lost or stolen. 


This was first published in October 2010

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