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May a health care provider share a patient’s health information with an interpreter to communicate with the patient or with the patient’s family, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care or payment for care?

Answer:

Yes.  HIPAA allows covered health care providers to share a patient’s health information with an interpreter without the patient’s written authorization under the following circumstances: 

  • A health care provider may share information with an interpreter who works for the provider (e.g., a bilingual employee, a contract interpreter on staff, or a volunteer). 

For example, an emergency room doctor may share information about an incapacitated patient’s condition with an interpreter on staff who relays the information to the patient’s family.

  • A health care provider may share information with an interpreter who is acting on its behalf (but is not a member of the provider’s workforce) if the health care provider has a written contract or other agreement with the interpreter that meets HIPAA’s business associate contract requirements. 

For example, many providers are required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to persons with limited English proficiency.  These providers often have contracts with private companies, community-based organizations, or telephone interpreter service lines to provide language interpreter services.  These arrangements must comply with the HIPAA business associate agreement requirements at 45 C.F.R. 164.504(e).

  • A health care provider may share information with an interpreter who is the patient’s family member, friend, or other person identified by the patient as his or her interpreter, if the patient agrees, or does not object, or the health care provider determines, using his or her professional judgment, that the patient does not object. 

For example, health care providers sometimes see patients who speak a certain language and the provider has no employee, volunteer, or contractor who can competently interpret that language.  If the provider is aware of a telephone interpreter service that can help, the provider may have that interpreter tell the patient that the service is available.  If the provider decides, based on professional judgment, that the patient has chosen to continue using the interpreter, the provider may talk to the patient using the interpreter.

 

Created 9/16/08