HHS Office for Civil Rights Issues Guidance on How HIPAA Allows Information Sharing to Address the Opioid Crisis

Following President Trump’s declaration of a nationwide public health emergency regarding the opioid crisis, the HHS Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance on when and how health care providers can share a patient’s health information with his or her family members, friends, and legal personal representatives when that patient may be in crisis and incapacitated, such as during an opioid overdose.

This guidance reveals nothing new, but confirms that current HIPAA regulations allow healthcare providers to share information with a patient’s loved ones in certain emergency or dangerous situations. This includes informing persons in a position to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a patient’s health or safety, such as a suspected opioid overdose.

It is important to remember that state laws and other federal privacy laws (such as 42 C.F.R. Part 2) may also apply.  Of course, HIPAA does not interfere with state laws or medical ethics rules that are more protective of patient privacy.

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