Patient confidentiality is a hallmark of good health care. A patient has to feel comfortable with their doctor or therapist, for example, to be able to have open conversations and get to the bottom of healthcare concerns. There are laws in place to protect patient confidentiality, but there are also exceptions to the rules.
Patient confidentiality is essential for building trust between patients and their medical providers. When patients don’t trust their providers, they may not be honest about their symptoms or may hide behaviors that could lead to varied diagnoses. Still, there are times when medical providers may have to break confidentiality and are protected when they do so.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s exceptions
According to HIPAA, there are patient confidentiality exceptions. Those exceptions are designed to prevent a patient from harming themselves or others. They’re also designed to allow medical professionals to share information for clinical purposes and to optimize patient care.
For example, a therapist may be able to break confidentiality if they are concerned that the patient is suicidal or has decided to harm someone else. In those cases, the provider may be legally obligated to contact the relevant authorities.
Any time someone’s medical history could pose a threat to the public, that information may be shared as well. For instance, if someone has a disease that could spread through the public and cause serious harm to others, HIPAA states that the medical professionals are allowed to reveal information to protect the community.
Clinically, information about a patient may be shared in discussions with colleagues or when attempting to move a patient to a different facility. Some clinical data may need to be exchanged to improve and optimize patient care.
In court, there are times when you may be asked to share information, but you need to be sure that you are legally able to do so without violating HIPAA laws. Any time that HIPAA is violated, there could be a risk to your license as a medical or healthcare provider. If you are facing a reprimand or legal action, it’s valuable to determine if you did or did not violate the patient’s rights.