Health Information Management

HIPAA Q&A: Group talk

HIM-HIPAA Insider, November 30, 2009

Q. We have an INR clinic, and we would like to conduct group encounter classes for newly enrolled patients. By nature of the class type, bringing such patients together would imply some PHI information regarding the group.

May we address general educational topics (i.e. diet effect, OTC and prescription drug effects on Coumadin dosing, safety measures, review of conditions requiring Coumadin dosage, and potential complications and side effects of Coumadin therapy) with the group with no specific individual information identified?

Yes. Group educational classes are similar to group therapy sessions, which the Office for Civil Rights has addressed in its FAQs. Disclosures of PHI in a group setting are treatment disclosures and may be made without an individual’s authorization.

If the individual is present during the disclosure, the CE may disclose PHI if it is reasonable to infer from the circumstances that the individual does not object to the disclosure. An individual’s agreement to participate in a group therapy or educational session is a good basis for inferring the individual’s agreement.

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney regarding legal matters.

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