What options do family members of an adult patient with mental illness have if they are concerned about the patient’s mental health and the patient refuses to agree to let a health care provider share information with the family?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits a health care provider to disclose information to the family members of an adult patient who has capacity and indicates that he or she does not want the disclosure made, only to the extent that the provider perceives a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others and the family members are in a position to lessen the threat. Otherwise, under HIPAA, the provider must respect the wishes of the adult patient who objects to the disclosure. However, HIPAA in no way prevents health care providers from listening to family members or other caregivers who may have concerns about the health and well-being of the patient, so the health care provider can factor that information into the patient’s care.
In the event that the patient later requests access to the health record, any information disclosed to the provider by another person who is not a health care provider that was given under a promise of confidentiality (such as that shared by a concerned family member), may be withheld from the patient if the disclosure would be reasonably likely to reveal the source of the information. 45 CFR 164.524(a)(2)(v). This exception to the patient’s right of access to protected health information gives family members the ability to disclose relevant safety information with health care providers without fear of disrupting the family’s relationship with the patient.