Jennifer Bernstein, JD, MPH
Senior Attorney, The Network for Public Health Law – Mid-States Region
University of Michigan School of Public Health
Patient Privacy in Mental Health: Balancing Rights while Trying to Ensure Appropriate Treatment
Privacy rights and protection of health information take on special meaning in mental health care, whether because of the stigma associated with mental health conditions, or issues of family dynamics, or a variety of other reasons. The on-going debate takes on increased importance in light of the tragedy this past weekend at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Before we explore particular instances of how patient privacy has affected people with mood disorders and their families, we’ve asked attorney Jennifer Bernstein to provide an overview of privacy in mental health care.
What is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly referred to as HIPAA, provides consumers with privacy rights and protections for their health information, including mental health information. Though enacted in 1996, HIPAA’s Privacy Rule governing individually identifiable health information took effect in 2001. The Privacy Rule seeks to strike a balance between protecting patient’s privacy by safeguarding sensitive health information and allowing for the sharing of a patient’s health information to ensure the best treatment and the health and safety of the patient or others. The following information applies generally to adult patients.