CHA News Article

New Guidance Available on Sharing Patient Information
Applies to mental health, substance use disorder treatment

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has published new guidance on sharing information related to mental health and substance use disorder treatment with a patient’s family and others involved in their care. These documents interpret the federal regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). CHA cautions California health care providers that, although the guidance accurately explains federal law, it does not take into account state laws that are more protective of the patient’s privacy rights. In many cases, if a California provider were to follow the new federal guidance, that provider would be violating state law.

Specifically, California health care providers should not rely on this guidance with respect to:

  • Patients receiving services under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (patients on involuntary mental health holds as well as patients on voluntary status in acute psychiatric hospitals or in psychiatric units of general acute care hospitals, and others)
  • Disclosures to law enforcement officials
  • Parents of minors with mental illness, whether the minors fall under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act or the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act

The relationship between state health information privacy laws and HIPAA is complex. To determine whether health information may be disclosed, a provider must know the state and federal laws that apply to the situation. The provider must compare the two and follow whichever is more protective of the patient’s privacy or gives the patient greater access to their own records.

CHA has published the 450-page California Health Information Privacy Manual, which compares all state and federal privacy laws and provides guidance on how to handle each situation in California. Information about the manual may be found at www.calhospital.org/privacy.

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