House bill would clarify HIPAA guidance

In an effort to help patients suffering from mental illness, a newly proposed House bill looks to clarify and formalize guidance on HIPAA privacy rules.

The legislation, put forward by House the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee member Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), addresses guidance issued in February 2014 by the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

Matsui  (pictured) says in an announcement that better understanding of the guidance will "give providers the confidence to practice discretion in delicate situations, to best determine whether it is in an individual's best interest to share information with family members and caregivers on a case-by-case basis."

The legislation, Including Families in Mental Health Recovery Act, also will develop training programs for educating providers, patients and families on what information can be shared and when it can be shared. According to a report to Congress published in April by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, many providers use HIPAA as an excuse to engage in information blocking.

The guidance looks to clarify when HIPAA allows providers to:

  • Communicate with people involved in a patient's care, including family members and friends
  • Communicate with the parent of a patient who is a minor
  • Consider the patient's capacity to agree or object to the sharing of their information
  • Communicate with family members, law enforcement, or others when the patient presents a serious and imminent threat of harm to self or others

It is being supported by mental health organizations including the National Council for Behavioral Health, the Treatment Advocacy Center, the American Psychological Association, the Mental Health Association of California and more.

Privacy and security surrounding sharing of health information is something the industry continues to struggle with overall, and protections and guidance for mental health information are even trickier. Currently, behavioral health providers are not required under the Meaningful Use program to adopt electronic health record. Not having such tools at their disposal can cause barriers to sharing information.

To learn more:
- read the annoucmement
- here's the bill (.pdf)
- check out the guidance (.pdf)