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The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule was enacted to protect patients’ personal health information from undue disclosure. Despite its intention to protect patients, recent reports suggest that HIPAA restrictions may be negatively impacting health research. Quantitative, visual geographical and statistical analysis of zip code geographical information systems (GIS) mapping, comparing 3-digit HIPAA-compliant and 5-digit HIPAA-non-compliant simulated data, was chosen to identify and describe the type of distortion that may result. It was found that unmitigated HIPAA compliance with HIPAA mapping rules distorted the GIS zip code data by 28% leading to erroneous results. Thus, compliance with HIPAA privacy rule when mapping may lead investigators to publish erroneous GIS maps.
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