New HIPAA guidance released in opioid crisis

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released new guidance on when and how healthcare providers can share a patient’s health information with the patient’s family and close friends during certain crisis situations, such as opioid overdoses, without violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy regulations. This was done in response to President Trump’s call to action on opioids on October 26, 2017.

While this guidance reveals nothing new, it does confirm that current HIPAA regulations allow healthcare providers to share information with a patient’s loved ones in certain emergency or dangerous situations. The document explains how providers have broad ability to share health information with patients’ family members  without violating HIPAA privacy regulations during certain crisis circumstances, including:

• Sharing health information with family and close friends who are involved in care of the patient if the provider determines that doing so is in the best interests of an incapacitated or unconscious patient and the information shared is directly related to the family or friend’s involvement in the patient’s health care or payment of care. 

• Informing persons in a position to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a patient’s health or safety.

Additionally, the guidance also notes that HIPAA respects individual autonomy by placing certain limitations on sharing health information with family members, friends, and others without the patient’s agreement; HIPAA anticipates that a patient’s decision-making capacity may change during the course of treatment; and HIPAA recognizes patient’s personal representatives according to state law.

The complete guidance document can be found here. It is important to remember that state laws and other federal privacy laws (such as 42 C.F.R. Part 2) may also apply.  HIPAA does not interfere with state laws or medical ethics rules that are more protective of patient privacy.

For more information or help to better understand the new guidelines, contact our HIPAA experts at or call 877-218-7707.

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