Health Information Management

Q&A: Is discussing the health of nonpatient relatives a HIPAA violation?

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 1, 2011

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Q. I work in patient financial services at a hospital. Like me, several of my coworkers have aging parents. Sometimes at lunch, we discuss the medical problems of our parents, who are not patients at our hospital. My supervisor says these discussions of family members' medical problems violate HIPAA. Is this true?

A: Discussing the health problems of family members who are not patients at your facility does not violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Your hospital is a covered entity pursuant to HIPAA. As an employee, you are required to protect the confidentiality of patients at your facility.
 
Nonetheless, you should still be respectful of your parents' privacy and limit these discussions with individuals outside the family. Think about the information you're sharing and ask yourself whether you would want your information discussed in this manner. Also remember that your coworkers may not keep these conversations confidential and may share this information with their friends or family members.
 
Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX, answered this question in the March issue of Briefings on HIPAA.



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