Physician Practice

Q&A: Handle family members checking on patients for whom they're not directly responsible

Physician Practice Insider, June 16, 2015

Q: If a patient's family member who is not responsible for the patient's care calls to ask how the patient is doing, what can the treating physician disclose? Should we take steps to verify that the caller is in fact a family member?
A: HIPAA allows sharing of necessary information to friends and family involved in the patient's care assuming that the patient has not officially objected and if it can be assumed this is what the patient would want. The information shared should be limited to that necessary for providing care or managing finances/placement issues.
Providers are busy taking care of patients and generally can't be speaking to lots of family members. I would redirect the caller to the patient him or herself, or, if the patient is unable to answer questions, to the designated surrogate or support person. Some organizations ask the patient or family to designate a spokesperson with whom the provider will speak, assuming that this person will share with other family members as appropriate.

Editor's note: Chris Simons, MS, RHIA, the director of health information and the privacy officer at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, New Hampshire, originally answered this question in Medical Records Briefing. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.

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