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What HIPAA says: Providers may disclose “directory information” (i.e., patient’s location and general health status) if the caller identifies the patient by name.
Absent such a request and assuming the patient has not objected to the provider’s disclosure of PHI to family members, this situation raises ethical rather than HIPAA concerns.
Unfortunately, pertinent information is often absent or kept protected during the emergency department (ED) visit, limiting easy access by providers.
When providers don’t understand how HIPAA applies to a particular situation, the kneejerk response is often to err on the side of caution.
Certainly you’ve heard a colleague say, “That’s a HIPAA violation! Yet for providers, there is a real reason to be careful: HIPAA violations can carry significant penalties for individual and institutional providers (referred to under HIPAA as “covered entities”) and their “business associates” (individuals and organizations doing work on their behalf, e.g., claims processor or business manager).
When it comes to gray-area situations, it is important to recognize that HIPAA is not intended to interfere with a patient’s medical care.