Therapists face pressure when it comes to employing the principles of HIPAA and confidentiality, which often go hand and hand. Confidentiality is your legal and moral right to privacy in a healthcare setting. Health documents (paper or electronic), discussions, and other relevant information is protected in each state by HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
HIPAA protects medical and mental health information from being exposed to the public or others who do not have access to a patient file. Faxes, emails, paper forms, and other correspondences within a medical or mental health agency, must be protected and handled with care.
If you, your loved one, or friend has been hospitalized or cared for in a healthcare setting, their information is protected under HIPAA. In order to receive any kind of healthcare information on another individual HIPAA will require the patient or client to complete what is known as an informed consent form and Authorization to release health information.
These forms are documents that require a signature (or sometimes a verbal agreement) from the patient or client to allow another person access to certain information on their healthcare file. If an “outsider” (family member, caregiver, or friend) does not have informed consent or is documented in the patient or client’s file, it will be very difficult if not impossible to receive information, even in emergencies. Each state, however, is different.
Visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for further information for consumers on HIPAA. This is something every family, caregiver, and individual within social services should know about.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
Your health information cannot be used or shared without your written permission unless this law allows it. For example, without your authorization, your provider generally cannot:
Give your information to your employer
Use or share your information for marketing or advertising purposes
Share private notes about your health care
Because of HIPAA and confidentiality laws, I am a very big proponent of a “living will” or mental health advanced directive. A living will permits a family member, caretaker, or friend to make mental health decisions (including treatment) on the behalf of a patient or client in the event that individual cannot make wise decisions. The living will can be completed ahead of time (without legal help), signed, and notarized. Keep in mind that a living will may not be 100% helpful with HIPAA laws.
You want to keep the living will somewhere safe (where others can find it if needed) and updated as you make changes in your healthcare. For information on Advanced Directives in your state, visit the National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advanced Directives.
Stay tuned for my next article on patient rights.
All the best
US Department of Health and Human Services: Health information privacy. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/.
Last reviewed: 21 Mar 2013