May a hospital or other covered entity notify a patient's family member or other person that the patient is at their facility?
Yes. The HIPAA Privacy Rule, at 45 CFR 164.510(b), permits covered entities to notify, or assist in the notification of, family members, personal representatives, or other persons responsible for the care of the patient, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death. Where the patient is present, or is otherwise available prior to the disclosure, and has capacity to make health care decisions, the covered entity may notify family and these other persons if the patient agrees or, when given the opportunity, does not object. The covered entity may also use or disclose this information to notify the family and these other persons if it can reasonably infer from the circumstances, based on professional judgment, that the patient does not object. Under these circumstances, for example:
- A doctor may call a patient’s wife to tell her that her husband was in a car accident and is being treated in the emergency room for minor injuries.
- A doctor may contact a pregnant patient’s husband to let him know that his wife arrived at the hospital in labor and is about to give birth.
- A nurse may contact the patient’s friend to let him know that his roommate broke his leg falling down the stairs, has had surgery, and is in recovery.
Even when the patient is not present or it is impracticable because of emergency or incapacity to ask the patient about notifying someone, a covered entity can still notify family and these other persons when, in exercising professional judgment, it determines that doing so would be in the best interest of the patient. See 45 CFR 164.510(b). For example, a doctor may, using such professional judgment, call the adult daughter of an incapacitated patient to inform her that her father suffered a stroke and is in the intensive care unit of a hospital.