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Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule permit a covered entity to disclose protected health information about a decedent to family members or other persons involved in the care of the decedent?

Answer:

Yes.  The Privacy Rule permits a covered entity to disclose protected health information about a decedent to a family member, or other person who was involved in the individual’s health care or payment for care prior to the individual’s death, unless doing so is inconsistent with any prior expressed preference of the deceased individual that is known to the covered entity.  This may include, depending on the circumstances, disclosures to spouses, parents, children, domestic partners, other relatives, or friends of the decedent, provided the information disclosed is limited to that which is relevant to the person’s involvement in the decedent’s care or payment for care.  See 45 CFR 164.510(b)(5).  For example, a covered health care provider could describe the circumstances that led to an individual’s death with the decedent’s sister who is asking about her sibling’s death.  In addition, a covered health care provider or pharmacy could disclose billing information or records to a family member of a decedent who is assisting with closing a decedent’s estate.  However, in both cases, a provider generally should not share information about past, unrelated medical problems.