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If the patient is present and has the capacity to make health care decisions, when does HIPAA allow a health care provider to discuss the patient’s health information with the patient’s family, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care or payment for care?

Answer:

If the patient is present and has the capacity to make health care decisions, a health care provider may discuss the patient’s health information with a family member, friend, or other person if the patient agrees or, when given the opportunity, does not object.  A health care provider also may share information with these persons if, using professional judgment, he or she decides that the patient does not object.  In either case, the health care provider may share or discuss only the information that the person involved needs to know about the patient’s care or payment for care. 

Here are some examples:

  • An emergency room doctor may discuss a patient’s treatment in front of the patient’s friend if the patient asks that her friend come into the treatment room.
  • A doctor’s office may discuss a patient’s bill with the patient’s adult daughter who is with the patient at the patient’s medical appointment and has questions about the charges.
  • A doctor may discuss the drugs a patient needs to take with the patient’s health aide who has accompanied the patient to a medical appointment.
  • A doctor may give information about a patient’s mobility limitations to the patient’s sister who is driving the patient home from the hospital.
  • A nurse may discuss a patient’s health status with the patient’s brother if she informs the patient she is going to do so and the patient does not object.

BUT:

  • A nurse may not discuss a patient’s condition with the patient’s brother after the patient has stated she does not want her family to know about her condition.

 

Created 9/16/08