In 2017, President Trump issued a call to action that led to the declaration of a nationwide public health emergency regarding the opioid crisis. In response, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance on how HIPAA allows information sharing to address the opioid crisis.

OCR’s guidance, released in October 2017, addresses when and how healthcare providers can share a patient’s health information with his or her family members, friends, and legal personal representatives when that patient may be in crisis and incapacitated, such as during an opioid overdose. The guidance supplements existing guidance on when and how healthcare providers can share a patient’s health information with his or her family members, friends, and legal personal representatives as a general rule. For example, current HIPAA regulations allow healthcare providers to share information with a patient’s loved ones in certain emergency or dangerous situations. This includes informing persons in a position to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a patient’s health or safety.

Sorting out the nuances of the HIPAA privacy rules can be tricky, especially amidst this opioid epidemic. But when an emergency is in progress with a patient in crisis, it becomes vital to ensure that barriers to family support are not created due to misunderstandings about HIPAA.

Healthcare providers must understand when and how they can share information with patients’ family members and friends without violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

For more information on HIPAA issues, contact Linda at 781-272-8001.

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