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Policy aims to make sense of HIPAA

June 12, 2015
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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There are a lot of misconceptions about HIPAA privacy laws, and providers are sometimes unsure about the right way to handle information. Fearing penalties, many err on the side of caution and lock down data under all circumstances.

This week, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced The Including Families in Mental Health Recovery Act which aims to clarify federal guidance on HIPAA privacy rules to help providers make case-by-case decisions on how and when to share patient information.

The proposed legislation lists nine circumstances for which federal officials would offer clarification. For example, it calls for guidance on providers’ ability to communicate with a patient’s family or caregivers when the patient does not consent, but the patient lacks the capacity to agree or object, and the communication is in the patient’s best interest.

The policy proposal also creates model training programs for educating providers, administrators and consumers on the health information that can be shared with family members and caregivers, and in which scenarios.

“Healthcare providers and administrators have long lacked clarity on HIPAA rules and thus have been cautious to share information with family members and caregivers of patients,” said Matsui, in a statement.  “This lack of clarity creates significant challenges to patients, their doctors and family. Sharing the right information with the right family and caregivers can help a patient, while still protecting their privacy. Assisting family and caregivers with being involved in a patient's care can be of the utmost importance, and can even mean life or death.”

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights issued guidance on HIPAA protections in February 2014, but Matsui believes better understanding and awareness of the guidance will give providers the confidence in delicate situations. Providers must determine whether it is in an individual’s best interest to share information with family members and caregivers on a case-by-case basis, she said.

This legislation is supported by National Council for Behavioral Health, National Disability Rights Network, Treatment Advocacy Center, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health Association of California, and California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies.

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