Readers Reveal Thoughts about HIPAA Reform in Online Survey

During the month of June, Care For Your Mind explored with our readers the nuances of HIPAA regulations. Each weekly post included a short poll to assist in better understanding the views of the CFYM readership around this topic. The polls asked questions about individual privacy protection, as well as a family member’s right to be involved in a loved one’s mental health care.

Readers Reveal Thoughts about HIPAA Reform in Online Survey

CFYM readership while not self-disclosing, is positioned towards individuals living with a mood disorder, their families, and policy makers. It would be reasonable to believe that readers responding to the polls fall into one of those three categories. However, because respondents are not asked to self-disclose, one cannot not make any calculations about trends within those categories.

What can be determined from the poll results, is that further dialogue about individual privacy protection and the rights of family members to be included when a loved one’s mental health is at stake needs to continue.

Among the readers who participated in week one’s poll, 64% stated that HIPAA regulations interfered with their helping a loved one deal with a mental illness; but only 10% stated that the same HIIPPA regulations helped them keep their medical information away from their family. At face value, it appears that individuals participating in mental health treatment feel that family members do indeed have access to information about their care.

This disconnect might be discovered in the responses to week two’s poll. Sixty-seven percent of respondents stated that hospitals should be allowed to inform a family member when a loved one is admitted. Again, we need to be careful to not draw any conclusion as to which category: loved one, family member or policy maker was responding to this question. However it might point to an intersection of compromise between family members wishing to be better informed, and the rights of individuals participating in treatment to retain the right to decide how much information is disclosed to the family. Still, 70% of respondents to week four’s poll state that their state should reform HIPAA regulations to make it easier for families to be involved in a loved one’s mental health care.

The qualitative examination of the topic provided by comments inserted in each week’s post enables a broader discussion of the issues. One reader exemplified the idea that answers to these complex problems are not simple due to the dynamic and changing nature of relationships.

“However, for unidentified relatives who may abuse, manipulate, or take advantage of family members who are particularly vulnerable because of mood disorders, the part of the law which grants access to information may be wrong if it leads to hyper-control of the patient and blockage of the patient’s right to recover at her/his own pace. But that’s why access needs to be limited and confidentiality maintained, unless the patient indicates in word or deed the need to harm himself or others. This is a tricky balancing act.”

Yes, a “tricky balancing act.”  There is not a one size fits all answer to this issue. There is no right or wrong pursuit. However, when we demand that both quality mental health care be available to everyone and that research lead to more innovative treatment options we can begin to visualize a day when “Target Zero” symptoms renders this discussion obsolete. And that’s a point I think we all can agree upon.

Your Turn

  • What is the single most impactful HIPAA reform you would like to see implemented?
  • What are you going to do to see those changes are made?

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