Information from someone else

April 7, 2006

A nonpatient left information on our office answering machine about one of our patients. The caller, a family member, phoned to say that my patient sometimes skips her medication. Am I permitted to disclose this information to the patient without violating HIPAA?

Q: A nonpatient left information on our office answering machine about one of our patients. The caller, a family member, phoned to say that my patient sometimes skips her medication. Am I permitted to disclose this information to the patient without violating HIPAA?

A: Yes. You're always allowed to disclose information about a patient to the patient herself. It's the unauthorized disclosure of protected health information to other individuals that's prohibited by the privacy rule.

That said, if the information you received about your patient is relevant to her treatment, verify with her that it's true. Whatever the case, however, approach the topic carefully, since your patient may not be happy that a third party, in this case a family member, shared information about her with you. If she asks whether that third party violated her privacy rights, you can say that, under a law known as HIPAA, only healthcare providers like yourself and several other entities are bound by federal privacy rules