Q&A: Phone messages and HIPAA

November 7, 2008

A patient recently claimed that we violated her privacy because we left a message on her answering machine about an upcoming appointment and her husband heard it. Did we violate HIPAA regulations?

Q: A patient recently claimed that we violated her privacy because we left a message on her answering machine about an upcoming appointment and her husband heard it. Did we violate HIPAA regulations?

A: No. HIPAA doesn't prohibit leaving messages for patients on answering machines as long as you release only limited information and take reasonable precautions to protect privacy. But if a patient asks you to communicate with her confidentially (by calling her at the office rather than at home, for example), you must accommodate that request if it's reasonable. When you ask patients for their contact information, you might want to have them sign a separate statement acknowledging that they know this is your policy. At that time, you should also allow them to request something different.