Jennifer Bernstein, JD, MPH
Senior Attorney, The Network for Public Health Law – Mid-States Region
University of Michigan School of Public Health
This is the second of three posts discussing privacy rights for mental health care provided by Attorney Jennifer Bernstein. Read the first installment from earlier this week. Additionally learn more by reading FAQs from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
When and How Can A Family Member Become Involved in Care?
Now that we have discussed some of the basics of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, let’s consider some specific concerns that family members often have regarding treatment and care of their adult family members with a mental health disorder. Generally, HIPAA gives ultimate deference to a patient’s wishes as to the sharing of their health information. There are some exceptions that are important for the family members of individuals with mental illness.
When does mental illness constitute incapacity under the Privacy Rule?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule does make allowance for when a patient is unable to authorize disclosure due to incapacity. A major determining factor on whether to disclose a patient’s information to the their family, friends or other persons involved in their care is whether or not the disclosure is in the best interests of the patient. Incapacity criteria may include when a patient is incoherent or suffering from psychosis.