Sharing info with family -- a weekly HIPAA message

November 05, 2002

picture disc. HIPAA, the "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996," provides federal protection of patient health information. You will be receiving weekly messages to help you understand the topic and how it impacts your job. Today's HIPAA message addresses sharing information with a spouse or looking at a friend or family's medical record.

Questions:
1. May I discuss patients with my spouse if he/she doesn't work here and promises to keep it secret?

2. Am I permitted to look at my friend or family's (spouse, child, parents, siblings, etc…) medical record?

Answers:
1. No. Disclosing confidential information to someone who does not have the "need to know" to perform services on behalf of the patient is a breach of confidentiality. Individuals who breach confidentiality are subject to corrective action up to and including termination.

2. Under HIPAA, you are not permitted to look at your friend or family's record unless:

  • Your friend or family member is physically present and consents to the health care provider showing you the medical record.
  • Your friend or family member signs an authorization specifically permitting the health care provider to disclose the information to you.

While patients usually want family and friends' involvement in their treatment, it shouldn't be assumed. Sometimes an individual does not want others to know the details.

picture disc.

If you're a manager, please ensure all of your employees are informed of the contents of these messages and how it applies to your work area. Some ways of sharing the information include discussions during staff meetings, printing and posting this message or asking your employees if they have any further questions.