HHS Releases Bulletin: HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations

Generally, when you visit a healthcare facility or receive any health treatments, you expect a certain level of privacy. Patient privacy is protected by HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. However, the Department of Health and Human Services released a bulletin this month outlining situations when the privacy rules are not applicable.

Private health information is not protected when public health is at risk, treatment of the individual patient so requires, and other moments that may be necessary. As an example, in the middle of a public health crisis, a healthcare provider may disclose critical information “to prevent or control the disease, injury, or disability.”

Although a provider must still be extremely careful to not over-disclose private information, the release will generally be protected if they comply with requests from Federal entities, such as the Centers for Disease Control. The provider can disclose to other health providers for coordination of care efforts, family and friends who are involved in the treatment, relief organizations such as Red Cross, and potentially media outlets.

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