Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

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Avoiding the HIPAA Runaround

Posted Sunday, July 19, 2015 by John S. Palmer

Have you ever had a health care provider cite HIPAA to deny giving you information about a close family member?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is intended to help keep patient information private. But a recent article in the New York Times (“HIPAA’s Use as Code of Silence Often Misinterprets the Law”) contains examples of how the law has been misapplied, including a minister who thought HIPAA prohibited him from publishing the names of ailing parishioners in the church bulletin, and the Pennsylvania hospital that was treating a woman with memory impairment and cited HIPAA when refusing to take information from the patient’s daughter about her mother’s drug allergies.

One reason that health care providers are so careful is that HIPAA carries substantial penalties for the improper disclosure of patient data. However, it applies only to health care providers, health insurers, and companies that manage and store data such as patient records. It does not apply to family members and friends of patients, and in fact the Times article contains several links to helpful information, such as the United Hospital Fund’s HIPAA: Questions and Answers for Family Caregivers; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ webpages on HIPAA, including a page devoted to disclosures that can be made to friends and family even without a formal HIPAA release signed by the patient.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (425) 455-5513, toll free at (877) 455-5513, or

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Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056