Health Information Management

Q&A: Diagnostic test results

HIM-HIPAA Insider, April 20, 2009

Q. With patient permission, may we leave diagnostic test results on the patient’s  telephone answering machine? Some patients request notification in this manner. If so, must the request and permission be in writing?

Also, is it permissible to share the results with whoever answers the telephone at the number provided by the patient, even if it is not the patient?

We realize this is not best practice. However, patients request this as a convenience, and it does seem that the patient has this control over the sharing of his or her PHI.

A. Leaving a message containing diagnostic test results on a telephone answering machine is permissible if the patient specifically authorizes you to do so in writing. You could use your standard authorization form for this and indicate that the patient is authorizing you to leave test results on the patient’s telephone answering machine. Even with authorization, you should not leave messages pertaining to extremely sensitive results, such as a positive HIV test, on the answering machine.

If patients ask you to share test results with whoever answers the phone, request written permission to do so. Written permission should include a list of the specific individuals with whom you may share this information. When you call, you must verify that the person answering the phone is listed. Provide only limited information with these individuals, such as “please tell Mr. Smith that his test results are normal.”

Editor's note: Mary Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, president of Bellaire, TX-based Brandt & Associates, LLC, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney for legal matters

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