October 27, 2017
HHS Office for Civil Rights Issues Guidance on How HIPAA Allows Information Sharing to Address the Opioid Crisis
Following President Trump’s call to action yesterday that led to the declaration of a nationwide public health emergency regarding the opioid crisis, the HHS Office for Civil Rights is releasing new guidance on when and how healthcare providers can share a patient’s health information with his or her family members, friends, and legal personal representatives when that patient may be in crisis and incapacitated, such as during an opioid overdose.
“HHS is bringing all of the resources our department has to bear in order to address this crisis. This will ensure families have the right information when trying to help loved ones who are dealing with the scourge of drug addiction,” said Acting HHS Secretary Eric D. Hargan. “I commend Roger Severino and the HHS Office for Civil Rights for their swift action in clarifying for healthcare providers how they can share information with a patient’s family and friends.”
“We know that support from family members and friends is key to helping people struggling with opioid addiction, but their loved ones can’t help if they aren’t informed of the problem,” said Director Roger Severino, of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. “Our clarifying guidance will give medical professionals increased confidence in their ability to cooperate with friends and family members to help save lives.”
Current HIPAA regulations allow healthcare providers to share information with a patient’s loved ones in certain emergency or dangerous situations. This includes informing persons in a position to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a patient’s health or safety. Misunderstandings about HIPAA can create obstacles to family support that is crucial to the proper care and treatment of people experiencing a crisis situation, such as an opioid overdose. It is critical for healthcare providers to understand when and how they can share information with patients’ family members and friends without violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
For more information, visit https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/hipaa-opioid-crisis.pdf.
It is important to note that state or other federal privacy laws may also apply. HIPAA does not interfere with state laws or medical ethics rules that are more protective of patient privacy.