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FAQ 2089 Is a health care provider permitted to discuss an adult patient’s mental health information with the patient’s parents or other family members?

This is a HIPAA FAQ about disclosing mental health information to family members.

Final

Issued by: Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

Is a health care provider permitted to discuss an adult patient’s mental health information with the patient’s parents or other family members?

In situations where the patient is given the opportunity and does not object, HIPAA allows the provider to share or discuss the patient’s mental health information with family members or other persons involved in the patient’s care or payment for care. For example, if the patient does not object:

  • A psychiatrist may discuss the drugs a patient needs to take with the patient’s sister who is present with the patient at a mental health care appointment.
  • A therapist may give information to a patient’s spouse about warning signs that may signal a developing emergency.

But:

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

In all cases, 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. See 45 CFR 164.510(b). Finally, it is important to remember that other applicable law (e.g., State confidentiality statutes) or professional ethics may impose stricter limitations on sharing personal health information, particularly where the information relates to a patient’s mental health.

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