Health Information Management

Q&A: Funeral homes

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 23, 2009

Q. Funeral homes sometimes call requesting a deceased patient’s Social Security number (SSN) stating the family does not have the SSN. Is it legal for hospital staff members to give this information to the funeral home?

The HIPAA privacy rule protects deceased patients’ PHI in the same manner as that of living patients. It is permissible to provide funeral homes and coroners with information necessary to provide needed services. The minimum necessary rule, though, does apply.
Unless there is a specific need, covered entities cannot disclose the SSN of a deceased patient to the funeral home or the coroner.
In situations such as this, it is more appropriate for the legally-designated individual (e.g., a family member) to request the SSN from the covered entity. The individual(s) representing the deceased patient can then provide the SSN to the funeral home if the deceased’s representative deems it necessary.  

Editor's note: Chris Apgar, president of Portland, OR-based Apgar & Associates, LLC, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney regarding legal matters.

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