Monday, May 19, 2008


“I’m sorry, we are not allowed to share that information with you.” Is a phrase that family members seeking information about their loved one hear frequently. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is a long and complicated statute that most people, including many mental health professionals, do not understand. The Treatment Advocacy Center routinely receives phone calls from family members who are frustrated by the privacy laws concerning patient medical records.

Although many times it makes sense for patient medical records to be protected, countless situations challenge whether absolute confidentiality is the best option for patients and the public. What many families seeking information may not know (and mental health professionals for that matter) is that a covered entity (i.e., health care provider) can provide family members with information if the entity obtains informal permission from the patient by either asking the person outright or by circumstances that clearly give the person the opportunity to agree or object to the disclosure. This “protection” of information many times functions as an impairment to individuals with severe mental illness.