Health Information Management

HIPAA Q&A: You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers!

HIM-HIPAA Insider, June 1, 2015

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Submit your HIPAA questions to Editor John Castelluccio at and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.

Q. I work in an acute care behavioral health hospital. We have both civil and forensic patients. In addition to our regular psychology groups, we offer specialized groups to our forensic patients geared toward understanding their forensic legal status, competency restoration, anger management, etc.

Would it be considered a breach if during a group meeting the psychologist made the legal status of each patient known to everyone in the group?

For example, during anger management group, one technique the psychologist uses is to have the patients discuss their legal statuses and what they could have done differently to keep the situation from happening in the future. A patient with a sexual offender status felt this violated his or her privacy. Does the group member have a valid HIPAA complaint?

A. Discussing a patient’s legal status or criminal history in a group setting is inappropriate and could be considered a violation of the patient’s privacy. In the example above, patients may be asked to describe a situation in which they failed to handle their anger appropriately and the consequences, but they should not be asked to provide private information pertaining to their legal status or criminal history. If the therapist needs to discuss specific situations with a patient, that should be done in a private therapy session.

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of health information at the Central Texas Division of Baylor Scott & White Health in Temple, Texas, answered this question for HCPro’s Briefings on HIPAA newsletter. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.

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