The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996 to:
HIPAA’s Privacy Rule creates national standards to protect patients’ individually identifiable health information, which it refers to as protected health information (PHI). PHI is any information that relates to:
In other words, health information, if coupled with common identifiers such as the patient’s name, address, or birthdate, must remain private and in the confines of the clinic.
The Privacy Rule exists to create a trusting environment between patients and their caregivers. A clinician cannot disclose PHI unless the patient consents or an exception applies.
There may be times when health care providers are required to share mental and behavioral health information to enhance patient treatment and to ensure the health and safety of the patient or others. The Privacy Rule, added to this legislation in 2000, set further standards to prevent inappropriate use or disclosure of protected health information. Importantly, it also:
This is relevant for the mental health profession since privacy concerns may act as a barrier to many individuals who might otherwise seek help.
Therapists are allowed to discuss information that’s relevant to a person’s care with other members of their health care team. This wouldn’t include information from psychotherapy notes or any information about substance abuse treatment from a licensed treatment program.
It’s important to note that HIPAA requirements provide that a therapist (or other health care provider) must protect the information of the person they’re working with, but it’s always permitted for family members and loved ones to share information about a person’s mental health with the care provider.
Provisions under HIPAA allowing therapists to communicate certain information can help therapists, doctors, and family members collaborate on treatment, which can lead to improved, more supportive care.
It should be noted that under HIPAA, health care professions such as therapists may share pertinent information (information directly related to treatment) with people involved in a person’s care if the person in treatment:
In additional circumstances, HIPAA allows for the release of PHI. In these situations, rule-makers acknowledge that the benefits of releasing protected information may outweigh the drawbacks. Permitted disclosures include those that:
MINORS AND OUTPATIENT MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
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