Sep 18, 2012

HIPAA Disclosure Question

Recently, we have received many HIPAA questions surrounding appropriate disclosures. The following Q and A should assist those with similar situations.

Q: Can we disclose patient information to a collection agency so we can receive overdue payments?

A: Yes. HIPAA allows a covered entity to disclose patient information to a collection agency, without prior patient authorization, for Payment Purposes. Remember to disclose only the minimum information necessary to accomplish the task.

Q: If an individual calls in and wants to know how a family member is doing, what kind of things can we, or should we disclose?

A: This is a good question that requires an expanded answer. In order to appropriately answer this question, you will need to obtain some additional information.

1) What is the relationship of the caller to the patient?
2) Is the caller the living with the patient and responsible for the patient's care?
3) What are the patient's wishes surrounding disclosure of information to family members?

First, if the patient is a minor and the individual calling is a parent, or the patient's designated representative, then you may disclose the patient's information. However, if the patient has requested that you without information, then it is left up to the best judgement of the covered entity to decide whether such a disclosure could place the patient at risk.

Second, HIPAA allows covered entities to release information that is directly related to the patient's care, to the individual who is directly responsible for the patient's care.

Example: "The patient will require plenty of rest. Covered entities should ONLY disclose information directly related to the patient's care.

Acceptable: The patient should drink plenty of liquid as they take their medication.
Not Acceptable: The patient has a history of back pain, which may or may not be related to their current condition.

Finally, if the patient has requested that information be withheld from family and friends, then you may not disclose the information. Additionally, in your best judgement you may determine that disclosing information would simply be inappropriate, then you may withhold the information.

If you have additional disclosure questions, or other general HIPAA questions, please feel free to contact us at:

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