Private health information of individuals should be protected at all costs. As a healthcare provider, you must follow the regulations and establish processes and policies that will ensure your compliance. Established Federal standards do not limit the delivery or coordination of health care, and as a healthcare provider, you must know what type of information you can and can’t provide and how to handle privacy and security protections.

To help you, here’s a quick guide to the medical privacy of protected health information.

What is HIPAA?
HIPAA, also known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a federal law that sets standards as to how healthcare providers should handle patient health information. In these standards, HIPAA seeks to balance the protection of information and patient care.

Here is some key information regarding patient privacy that you should know as a healthcare provider:

• Incidental Disclosures
According to the Privacy Rule, incidental disclosures do not violate the rules as long as you have policies that reasonably safeguard and appropriately limit how protected health
information is used and disclosed.

• Consent Forms
Patients do not need to sign consent forms before healthcare professionals are allowed to share information to process treatment, payment, and other healthcare-related operations.

• Electronic Communications
Healthcare providers are allowed to use telephones, mobile phones, fax machines, and email when communicating with patients and other healthcare professionals. Of course, providers should still make sure that health information is secured when using electronic devices. Reasonable safeguards must be applied, such as passwords, authentications, encryptions, and keeping a good firewall and security software.

Can you share patient location and health status?
HIPAA permits healthcare professionals to provide private information to the patients’ friends and family as long as the patients allow them to do so. The patients’ basic information, such as the room and phone numbers, can be used in the hospital directory as well. However, the patient should consent to this beforehand.

Healthcare providers are allowed to share limited information regarding mental and behavioral health information of patients to ensure better treatment. Of course, this shouldn’t be done without care about the patient’s privacy. For better guidance regarding the guidelines for sharing such information, visit the HSS primer on mental health.

Can healthcare providers share a patient’s religious affiliation?
Yes, you can. Members of the clergy may have access to a patient’s (provided) religious information. If the patient is incapacitated, you can share vital patient information to one’s friends and family if it is in line with the patient’s best interest.

How should one handle privacy issues about child abuse reporting?
If there are clear signs of neglect and child abuse, you may report it to the authority without the need for the patient’s consent.

Handling Protected Patient Information
There are a lot of nuances that come with handling protected patient information. Learn more about these details when you read HHS guidelines. If you have questions about managing private information as a healthcare provider, feel free to reach out to us.