Health Information Management

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

HIM-HIPAA Insider, July 6, 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: The facility where I work handles release of information in-house. We often receive checks from attorneys, insurance companies, etc., as payment for the released records. Patient names and account numbers are often included on the checks. I am concerned that others within the facility that are not involved in the patient’s care may see this information on the checks. I am also concerned about bank employees viewing this information when the checks are deposited. Is it a HIPAA violation for this information to be included on the checks we receive?

A: If the patient name and account number are included on checks received, those responsible for managing payments received may see the patient PHI. However, in most cases, this would be considered an incidental disclosure. Often, the patient information included on payments is needed to account for the source of the revenue and the associated patient record. If access to the checks is limited to only those who will be processing the payment, it is not a HIPAA violation.

If the patient name and account number are not required for the bank processing of the payment, it is advisable to black out that information. This is especially true if the covered entity (CE) is a specialty provider, because the mere fact that the check was paid to the CE can reveal the health condition of the patient. In the end, it comes down to the risk as determined by the CE. If it’s not feasible to black out the patient name and account number, it can be chalked up to incidental disclosure, which should be documented.

Editor’s note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, President of Apgar & Associates, LLC in Portland, Oregon, 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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