HHS recently issued HIPAA guidance for mental health practitioners, in an effort to help providers wade through complicated decisions of when disclosures of patient information are permissible. This guidance, set up in a FAQ format, is designed to incorporate common questions related to the intersection of mental health and privacy laws. The guidance addresses when healthcare providers are permitted 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.
The guidance also addresses FERPA (privacy laws in a school setting), Federal alcohol and drug abuse confidentiality (42 CFR Part 2 Programs) and the rights of parents to have access to a minor child’s information. Though not addressed in the guidance, those mental health practitioners practicing in Washington State should also be aware of the new statutes regulating mental health record disclosures which take effect on July 1, 2014.