Disclosing a Patient's Condition
Who Can You Talk to About a Patient's Condition?
You may disclose to a family member, other relative, or close personal friend of the patient or any other person identified by the patient, protected health information directly related to such persons involvement in the individual's care or payment related to the individual's health care if:
- the patient agrees; or
- the patient has had an opportunity to object to the disclosure, and did not; or
- based on the exercise of professional judgment, it appears that the patient would not object to the disclosure; or
- in cases where the patient is not present or is incapacitated, the disclosure is in the best interests of the patient, based on the exercise of professional judgment.
These disclosures do not have to be tracked.
You may inform relatives or others involved in a patient's care, such as the person who accompanied the individual to the emergency room, that a patient has suffered a heart attack and provide updates on the patient's progress and prognosis when the patient is incapacitated and unable to make decisions about such disclosures.
You can disclose functional information to individuals assisting in a patient's care; for example, you may give information about a person's mobility limitations to a friend driving the patient home from the hospital.
You may use professional judgment and experience with common practice to make reasonable inferences of the individual's best interest in allowing a person to act on an individual's behalf to pick up filled prescriptions, medical supplies, X-rays, or other similar forms of protected health information. For example, pharmacists may release a prescription to a patient's friend who is picking up the prescription for him or her.
This is intended for disclosures directly related to a patient's current condition and does not allow, for example, disclosure of extensive information about the patient's medical history that is not relevant to the patient's current condition and that could prove embarrassing to the patient.
You cannot disclose the contents of psychotherapy notes.
In all situations regarding possible disclosures of protected health information about a patient who is not present or is unable to agree to such disclosures due to incapacity or other emergency circumstance, disclosures should be in accordance with the exercise of professional judgment as to the patient's best interest. For example, if you suspect that an incapacitated patient is a victim of domestic violence and that a person seeking information about the patient may have abused the patient, you should not disclose information to the suspected abuser if there is reason to believe that such a disclosure could cause the patient serious harm.
You cannot assume that an individual's agreement at one point in time to disclose protected health information to a relative or to another person assisting in the individual's care implies agreement to disclose protected health information indefinitely in the future. For example, if a friend simply picks up a patient from the hospital but has played no other role in the individual's care, you should not call the friend to disclose lab test results a month after the initial encounter with the friend. However, if a patient routinely brings a spouse into the office when treatment is discussed, you can infer that the spouse is playing a long-term role in the patient's care, and may disclose protected health information to the spouse consistent with his or her role in the patient's care, for example, discussion of treatment options.