F rom Bob Coffield over at the Healthcare Law Blog: Communicating health information to friends and family members of patients has been a sensitive issue since the establishment of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Most providers if you ask them have some level of confusion surrounding the subject. What can I say what can't I say, some providers as so confused that they just don't say anything at all.
For family members and friends of patients trying to obtain information about the patient it has become more than frustrating. Everyone has heard of HIPAA and for many it serves not so much as a form of protection but a barricade to communication. Family members are left empty handed, angry and frustrated when they hear that their mother, father, etc are in hospital and can not obtain information. This is especially difficult for family members and friends of patients that live great distances from the patient.
May a health care provider discuss a patient’s health information over the phone with the patient’s family, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care or payment for care?
Yes. Where a health care provider is allowed to share a patient’s health information with a person, information may be shared face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing.
If a patient’s family member, friend, or other person involved in the patient’s care or payment for care calls a health care provider to ask about the patient’s condition, does HIPAA require the health care provider to obtain proof of who the person is before speaking with them?
No. If the caller states that he or she is a family member or friend of the patient, or is involved in the patient’s care or payment for care, then HIPAA doesn’t require proof of identity in this case. However, a health care provider may establish his or her own rules for verifying who is on the phone. In addition, when someone other than a friend or family member is involved, the health care provider must be reasonably sure that the patient asked the person to be involved in his or her care or payment for care.