Leave a message -- a weekly HIPAA message

January 21, 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 leave messages for a patient at his home.

Question:
May health care providers leave messages for a patient at his home -- on an answering machine or with a family member -- reminding him of his appointment or to inform him that his prescription is ready?

Answer:
Yes. The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits health care providers to communicate with patients regarding their health care. This includes communicating with patients at their homes, whether through the mail or by phone or in some other manner.

However, to reasonably safeguard the patient's privacy, health care providers should use professional judgment and take care to limit the amount of information disclosed on the answering machine. For example, a health care provider should leave only their name and number and other information necessary to confirm an appointment, or ask the patient to call back. A message also may be left with a family member or other person who answers the phone when the patient is not home. Again, professional judgment should be used regarding the information disclosed.

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.