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Information-Sharing and the Opioid Crisis

holding a patient's hand in a hospital bed
By: Curi Editorial Team
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Following President Trump’s declaration last week of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has issued new guidance on how HIPAA applies to providers treating patients for opioid-related issues.

The guidance stresses that, despite a common misconception, HIPAA regulations do allow providers to share health information with family and close friends without patient consent in some emergency or dangerous situations such as opioid overdoses. Those situations include the following:

  • When sharing health information is in an incapacitated or unconscious patient’s best interest, and the information shared is directly related to the family or friend’s involvement in the patient’s care or payment for care.
  • When sharing health information could prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the patient’s health or safety.

The guidance stresses that patients with decision-making capacity must be given the opportunity to consent to sharing health information. It also stresses that patients’ decision-making capacity may change during the course of treatment; for example, a patient who is admitted to an emergency department in an intoxicated state but later regains consciousness must be given the opportunity to consent to information-sharing once he or she has decision-making capacity.

More information about how HIPAA applies when treating patients in opioid-related crisis situations is available in the guidance document: How HIPAA Allows Doctors to Respond to the Opioid Crisis.

For help with any questions or concerns about applying this new guidance, members can contact Curi’s Risk Management Department at 800-662-7917.


Curi Editorial Team
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