If a health care provider knows that a patient with a serious mental illness has stopped taking a prescribed medication, can the provider tell the patient’s family members?
So long as the patient does not object, HIPAA allows the provider to share or discuss a patient’s mental health information with the patient’s family members. See 45 CFR 164.510(b). If the provider believes, based on professional judgment, that the patient does not have the capacity to agree or object to sharing the information at that time, and that sharing the information would be in the patient’s best interests, the provider may tell the patient’s family member. In either case, the health care provider may share or discuss only the information that the family member involved needs to know about the patient’s care or payment for care.
Otherwise, if the patient has capacity and objects to the provider sharing information with the patient’s family member, the provider may only share the information if doing so is consistent with applicable law and standards of ethical conduct, and the provider has a good faith belief that the patient poses a threat to the health or safety of the patient or others, and the family member is reasonably able to prevent or lessen that threat. See 45 CFR 164.512(j). For example, if a doctor knows from experience that, when a patient’s medication is not at a therapeutic level, the patient is at high risk of committing suicide, the doctor may believe in good faith that disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen the threat of harm to the health or safety of the patient who has stopped taking the prescribed medication, and may share information with the patient’s family or other caregivers who can avert the threat. However, absent a good faith belief that the disclosure is necessary to prevent a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others, the doctor must respect the wishes of the patient with respect to the disclosure.