Promoting Greater Access to Health Information

Fostering More Open Communications Between Health Care Providers and Patients

The premiere issue of LegalNotes provides an overview of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule impacts health care providers’ abilities to share protected health information (PHI) with patients and their loved ones. This issue of LegalNotes suggests that the Rule is not a hindrance; rather, it is a valuable asset that simultaneously protects patient privacy and allows providers to determine when and with whom PHI should be shared.

Protected health information (PHI) is individually identifiable health information that, generally speaking, cannot be disclosed to anyone without the patient’s permission, with the exceptions of treatment, payment and health care operations. However, as LegalNotes explains, many patients want to share their PHI with others who may help them better understand their conditions and make sound health care decisions. This article details the criteria that must be satisfied in order for a provider to disclose a patient’s PHI to a third party. Special circumstances—such as the incapacitation of patients and interpreters—are also addressed.


LegalNotes is an online Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) publication that provides readers with short, readable summaries of developments in the law that collectively shape the broader legal environment for efforts to improve quality, reduce health care disparities, and improve the transparency of price and quality information.

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