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When can mental health workers give info to a patient’s spouse?

Patient confidentiality laws are meant to protect the privacy of individuals. That’s why, in most all cases, medical records for patients receiving mental health treatment can only be released to another party with that patient’s informed written consent.

However, there are a couple of small exceptions when it comes to patient information and sharing it with a spouse or domestic partner. Here’s a brief overview of what the law allows.

Only if providing care or monitoring treatment

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has a document laying out the circumstances under which a patient’s records can be released to another party without the patient’s informed written consent. There are very few of these exceptions when it comes to the patient’s spouse or domestic partner.

One scenario is when a spouse or domestic partner is “directly involved” in providing care to or monitoring the treatment of the patient. This involvement does not mean simply supporting the patient, but requires the mental health professional providing care to verify the partner’s role.

The type of information the spouse or domestic partner can get is limited to a summary of the diagnosis and prognosis, a list of which medications the patient is on, and a description of the treatment plan.

There is also a fairly limited medical records exception for a spouse or domestic partner when the patient is at an inpatient facility. However, the only information that can be provided is whether the individual is still there, and if not, where they went after leaving.

Patient confidentiality

Oftentimes, mental health professionals find themselves in a dilemma as to whether certain confidential patient information can be released to another individual. The laws around this topic are lengthy and complex.

If you have any uncertainty, it may be a good idea to hold off and contact a health law attorney. They can potentially offer some guidance in order to help you make a decision you feel confident will protect your career.

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