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Do HIPAA Regulations Act as Barriers to Care?

Do HIPAA Regulations Act as Barriers to Care?Privacy rights and protections of health information take on a special meaning when participating in mental health care. Many factors contribute. Stigma, family dynamics and employability are just a few reasons why it is important to protect a patient’s medical records from prying eyes. However, some would argue that HIPAA regulations can actually prevent people from receiving vital and immediate care.

We are all familiar with the forms we sign each time we access health care. We agree that the clinician can share the information with insurance companies for purposes of securing payment, and we also complete forms that state to whom the clinician can share our medical information. If we don’t authorize a person to have knowledge about our care, the clinician is bound by law not to, right?

Not so fast. Over the next several weeks Care For Your Mind will examine all sides of this controversial topic. Jennifer Bernstein, Senior Attorney, The Network for Public Health Law – Mid-States Region,University of Michigan School of Public Health shares that there are special circumstances when clinicians can legally hand over this information. And herein is where the battle between clinician, family member and participating consumer often lies.

Clinicians tell family members they have not been authorized by their patient to share information with the family member. The family member is often frustrated that they have important and critical information to share that will enable their loved one to participate in quality care. Even worse, they might be worried about the whereabouts of their loved one and that person may be too ill to communicate to them that they are in the hospital.

So where do these blurred privacy lines begin and end? Is there a compromise that can protect patient privacy, yet is compassionate enough to recognize that loved ones also have the right to a certain amount of peace of mind?

One SAMHSA initiative is the Resource Center to Promote Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with Mental Health (ADS Center). It states the following challenge:

We are human beings and we can speak for ourselves. We have a voice and can learn to use it. We have the right to be heard and listened to. We can become self determining. We can take a stand toward what is distressing to us and need not be passive victims of an illness. We can become experts in our own journey of recovery.

Perhaps this is a place to start the discussion between peers, family members and clinicians. Recognizing that we are each on our own journey of self-discovery may enable family members to provide loved ones with the space to begin and sustain an independent and separate recovery plan. Loved ones, on the other hand, may want to examine the role compassion plays in their recovery and keep the lines of communication open to family members.

In the interest of providing a balanced view, Care For Your Mind will not only post important legal information on when and how it is appropriate for family members to intervene, but will also provide perspectives from a family member and peers. Check out the conversation and provide your own input. Let’s find a compassionate solution.

Do HIPAA Regulations Act as Barriers to Care?

Phyllis Foxworth

Phyllis Foxworth is the Director of Advocacy at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

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APA Reference
Foxworth, P. (2018). Do HIPAA Regulations Act as Barriers to Care?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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