Relatively speaking -- a weekly HIPAA message

January 14, 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. Today's HIPAA message addresses whether a health care provider can discuss a patient's care and treatment with the patient's relatives.

Question:
Can a health care provider discuss a patient's care and treatment with the patient's relatives and friends in person or over the telephone?

Answer:
Health care providers may share medical information with the patient and other people the patient would like to be involved in his/her care (i.e. family members, other relatives, friends, etc.). If possible, health care providers should obtain the patients permission to share information with others during the course of treatment. However, if this is not possible, the health care provider may use their professional judgment and reasonably infer from the circumstances that an individual does not object to sharing information with others who may visit or call on the telephone. Only information relevant to such person's involvement with the patient's care should be shared.

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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.