The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released new guidance about when HIPAA allows providers to share information about patients with a mental health condition or a substance abuse disorder.Through a series of “frequently asked question” scenarios, OCR clarifies when HIPAA permits healthcare providers to:
- communicate with a patient’s family members, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care;
- communicate with family members when the patient is an adult;
- communicate with the parent of a patient who is a minor;
- consider the patient’s capacity to agree or object to the sharing of their information;
- involve a patient’s family members, friends, or others in dealing with patient failures to adhere to medication or other therapy;
- listen to family members about their loved ones receiving mental health treatment;
- communicate with family members, law enforcement, or others when the patient presents a serious and imminent threat of harm to self or others; and
- communicate to law enforcement about the release of a patient brought in for an emergency psychiatric hold.
In addition, the guidance provides reminders about related issues, such as:
- heightened protections for psychotherapy notes under HIPAA’s privacy requirements;
- parental rights, as their child’s personal representative, to access protected health information of a minor child;
- potential applicability of federal alcohol and drug abuse confidentiality regulations or state laws that may provide more stringent protections than HIPAA; and
- the intersection of HIPAA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in a school setting.
More information on HIPAA and the release of mental health information may be found on the HHS website.