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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

HHS Releases FAQ on Disclosure of Mental Health Information Under HIPAA

February 26, 2014 | Privacy & HIPAA | Comments
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The Department of Health and Human Services has released a Frequently Asked Questions document clarifying the circumstances under which healthcare providers are obligated to, permitted to, or prohibited from sharing information about patients who have a mental health diagnosis.

Privacy issues have taken a front seat in the recent national debates on how to improve the provision of mental health and substance use services. HIPAA and FERPA are the two major federal laws that govern disclosure of patients’ mental health information, in conjunction with widely varying state-level laws. In congressional hearings over the last year, healthcare providers, consumers, and family members have testified to the widespread confusion surrounding current law and potential changes to facilitate the provision of services while protecting patients’ rights.

The newly released FAQ aims to clarify some of the confusion around existing HIPAA and FERPA requirements. It covers when it is appropriate for healthcare providers to:

  • Communicate with a patient’s family members, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care;
  • Communicate with family members when the patient is an adult;
  • Communicate with the parent of a patient who is a minor;
  • Consider the patient’s capacity to agree or object to the sharing of their information;
  • Involve a patient’s family members, friends, or others in dealing with patient failures to adhere to medication or other therapy;
  • Listen to family members about their loved ones receiving mental health treatment;
  • Communicate with family members, law enforcement, or others when the patient presents a serious and imminent threat of harm to self or others; and
  • Communicate to law enforcement about the release of a patient brought in for an emergency psychiatric hold.

Click here to read the FAQs.