He said, she said -- a weekly HIPAA message

January 07, 2003

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. In today's message, discover whether HIPAA covers verbal communications.

Questions:
1. Does HIPAA cover verbal communications?

2. Can health care providers engage in confidential conversations with other providers or with patients, even if there is a possibility that they could be overheard?

Answers:
1. Yes. HIPAA covers protected health information in any form including electronic, written, and verbal communications.

2. Yes. The HIPAA Privacy Rule is not intended to prohibit providers from talking to each other and to their patients. The Privacy Rule recognizes that verbal communications often must occur freely and quickly in treatment settings. The Privacy Rule also recognizes that overhead communications in these settings may be unavoidable and allows for these incidental disclosures.

Such incidental disclosures are permissible as a by-product of an otherwise permissible disclosure as long as reasonable precautions are used. Such reasonable precautions could include using lowered voices or talking apart from others when sharing PHI.

  • Health care professionals may discuss a patient's condition over the phone with the patient, a provider, or a family member (more on this next week).
  • A provider may discuss a patients' condition or treatment regimen in the patient's semi-private room.
  • Health care professionals may discuss a patient's condition during training rounds.
Source: DHHS, Office of Civil Rights, HIPAA Privacy FAQ's dated 12/3/02

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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.