Sharing Mental Health Information

Sharing Mental Health Information
A doctor sharing mental health information with a caregiver

Sharing Mental Health Information

Allowing Providers to Share

In certain circumstances HIPAA allows sharing of mental health information by mental health providers based on professional judgment.   It can be when it is in the best interests of the patient, or to prevent or lessen a risk of harm.

If there is a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if exhibiting behavior that may threaten their health or safety, providers need to be able to use professional judgment.   As a result they can identify the potential or likely risk and determine who can help lessen it.

Ways to Share Mental Health Information

There are several ways the provider may address the situation.

If the patient lacks ability to make decisions or is unconscious, the provider can share information with the patient’s personal representative (if applicable).   They can also share with family or friends involved in their care if it’s determined in the patients’ best interest.

A provider may contact anyone reasonably able to lessen the risk of harm.   This is important when they believe that a patient presents a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety to themselves or another person.

OCR Wont’t Second Guess

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR)states it won’t second guess mental health provider’s judgement when a patient is a threat to himself or others. HIPAA allows mental health providers to share information.

For more detail see the OCR guidance on this vital topic.  Remember to check state law for any restrictions on sharing.  It is the responsibility of all providers of mental health treatment to know the rules before managing this information.

This is your HIPAA ABCs brought to you by HIPAA Associates.  Contact us for more information on this important topic and HIPAA training for you and your company.

HIPAA and Same-sex Marriage

Understanding Relationships & HIPAA

The HIPAA Privacy Rule recognizes the important role that family members, such as spouses, often play in a patient’s health care.  Most importantly HIPAA and Same Sex marriage has become an important topic to be understood. It requires covered entities to treat an individual’s personal representative, who may be a spouse, as the individual responsible under the Privacy Rule, including the right to access the individual’s health information.  In addition, the Privacy Rule provides protections against the use of genetic information about an individual, which also includes certain information about family members of the individual, for underwriting purposes. 

A Major Court Decision

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court held section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor.  Section 3 of DOMA had provided that federal law would recognize only opposite-sex marriages. By making this decision the federal government recognizes the rights of individuals in same-sex marriages.  This decision did not resolve the status of such rights under state law.  Two years later, on June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other States.

Additional Decisions

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court held section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor.  Section 3 of DOMA had provided that federal law would recognize only opposite-sex marriages. By making this decision the federal government recognizes the rights of individuals in same-sex marriages.  This decision did not resolve the status of such rights under state law.  Two years later, on June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other States

Effects of the Decisions

In light of the Windsor and Obergefell decisions, this guidance makes clear that the terms marriagespouse, and family member include, respectively, all lawful marriages, lawfully married spouses, and both the lawful spouses and the dependents of all lawful marriages, and clarifies certain rights of individuals under the Privacy Rule. This guidance also updates and expands on related guidance issued in September 2014.     

Marriage, Spouse & Family Member

The definition of family member in the Privacy Rule at 45 CFR 160.103 includes the terms spouse and marriage.  The term marriage includes all lawful marriages. A lawful marriage is any marriage sanctioned by a state, territory, or a foreign jurisdiction as long as a U.S. jurisdiction would also recognize the marriage performed in the foreign jurisdiction. The term spouse includes all individuals who are in lawful marriages without regard to the sex of the individuals. The term family member includes lawful spouses and dependents of all lawful marriages.  In addition, the terms marriagespouse, and family member apply to all individuals who are legally married, regardless of where they live or receive health care services.

family member is relevant to the application of §164.510(b) regarding permitted uses and disclosures of PHI related to another person’s involvement in an individual’s care, and for making notifications about the individual’s location, general condition, or death.  In addition under certain circumstances, HIPAA permits covered entities to share an individual’s protected health information with a family member of the individual.  Legally married spouses are family members for the purposes of applying this provision.

The Source

This material was taken directly from the HHS.gov site at the following link.

We can help you

These are important recent changes that will affect how you deal with partners and same sex marriages. If you have any questions please contact us.