Notice of Privacy Practices
People are justifiably concerned about their privacy. Industry after industry--including health care--is being required or is volunteering to follow guidelines in order to ensure individual privacy. As a former member of the Committee on Confidentiality of the American Psychiatric Association and therefore an indirect contributor to the drafting of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), I am especially concerned about doing what I can to ensure the privacy of medical information. In psychiatry, we especially care about patient privacy. The certainty that what is communicated in this office remains confidential is perhaps as important to the practice of psychiatry as a sterile operating field is to the practice of surgery.
It is the purpose of this document to outline the policies and procedures of this office with respect to medical records and matters of privacy.
About this Office
This office is a solo medical practice of psychiatry. I am the sole practitioner and attend to all administrative matters, including scheduling, record-keeping, and billing. This office accepts no payment for services other than from patients. That is, responsibility for payment belongs to you. Insurance health claim forms will be completed at your request so that you may be reimbursed by your insurance carrier. I serve on no managed care panels and do not accept insurance reimbursement. I do not accept Medicaid or Medicare. I am responsible for the development and implementation of policies and procedures for the confidentiality of health information. Likewise, I am responsible for receiving complaints and providing further information to you about matters covered in this Notice of Privacy Practices.
This office does not bill any third-party by electronic means. As such, this office is not a “covered provider” and does not fall under the HIPAA regulations. Nevertheless, it is the aim of this office to follow HIPAA-compliant guidelines. Certain of the guidelines that follow are independent of HIPAA and are included for completeness. These guidelines are subject to change without further notice to you. Its purpose is to indicate how this office may disclose your protected health information to carry out treatment, and for other purposes that are permitted or required by law. It also describes your rights to access and to control your protected health information. “Protected health information” is information about you, including demographic information that may identify you and that relates to your past, present or future physical or mental health or condition and related health care services.
Your Protected Health Information – What You Need to Know
Please appreciate that the current privacy legislation contains a loophole which may be of interest or concern to you: the pharmacies that fill your prescriptions may be remunerated by pharmaceutical companies to receive certain health-related information in order, say, to recommend that you switch from one medication to another or consider trying a related product. You do not need to be notified about this arrangement and pharmacies do not need to obtain your consent to pass along your name to a pharmaceutical company. Insofar as this office prepares medication prescriptions, it indirectly and reluctantly participates in this marketing practice that is available to the pharmaceutical industry. (October, 2002)
What you say in this office—and any record of what you say in this office—stays in this office. Rare circumstances may arise, however, where I may disclose to a member of your family, a relative, a close friend or any other person you identify, your protected health information that directly relates to that person’s involvement in your health care. Here are the circumstances that may lead me to use or disclose your protected health information. Because these circumstances may occur, I want to inform you about them:
à I may use or disclose protected health information to notify or assist in notifying a family member, personal representative or any other person who is responsible for your care and general condition. Finally, I may use or disclose your protected health information to an authorized public or private entity to assist in disaster relief efforts and to coordinate use and disclosure to family or other individuals involved in your health care.
à I may use or disclose your protected health information in an emergency treatment situation.
à I may use or disclose your protected health information to the extent that the use or disclosure is required by law. The use or disclosure will be made in compliance with the law. You will be notified, as required by law, of any such use or disclosure.
à I may disclose protected health information to a health oversight agency for activities authorized by law, such as audits, investigations, and inspections. Oversight agencies seeking this information include government agencies that oversee the health care system, government benefit programs, other government regulatory programs and civil rights laws.
à I may disclose protected health information in the course of any judicial or administrative proceeding in response to an order of a court or administrative tribunal (to the extent such disclosure is expressly authorized), in certain conditions in response to a subpoena, discovery request, or other lawful process.
à I may also disclose protected health information, so long as applicable legal requirements are met, for law enforcement purposes. These law enforcement purposes include (1) legal processes and otherwise as required by law, (2) limited information requests for identification and location purposes, (3) matters pertaining to victims of a crime, (4) suspicion that death has occurred as a result of criminal conduct, (5) in the event that a crime occurs on the premises of the practice, and (6) medical emergency where it is likely that a crime has occurred.
à Consistent with applicable federal and state laws, I may disclose your protected health information, if I believe that the use or disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of a person or the public. I may also disclose protected health information if it is necessary for law enforcement authorities to identify or apprehend an individual.
à I may disclose your protected health information to a public health authority that is authorized by law to receive reports of child abuse or neglect. In addition, I may disclose your protected health information if I believe that you have been a victim of abuse, neglect or domestic violence to the governmental entity or agency authorized to receive such information. In this case, the disclosure will be made consistent with the requirements of applicable federal and state laws.
à In this regard, this office does not acknowledge patient status to any third party except with your explicit oral or written authorization. Even without explicit authorization, in very exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to disclose protected health information to provide, coordinate, or manage your health care and any related services. Again, the privilege of confidentiality is suspended when there is clear, immediate, and grave threat of harm to either you or to a third party (e.g., child abuse) or when the legal statutes or a court order requires that confidentiality be overridden for the social good.
A Continuing Concern
Beyond the host of legal requirements, I am concerned that people are often unaware of the risks to personal privacy when they authorize releases that enable third parties (most often, insurance companies) to secure the contents of private medical information. I will seek to remind you that I am uncertain how private medical information is stored, how secure it is kept, who may eventually gain access to it, and to what purpose such information may be put. This office will seek to limit information released to what is strictly necessary for the stated purpose without compromising your right to whatever benefit accrues to informing a third party of medical diagnosis and treatment.
Hence, 1) it is the policy of this office is to decline acknowledging to third parties who is or is not a patient, who has been or who has not been a patient, and who has been seen or not seen in consultation; 2) requests for release of information may only be initiated by the patient or with the approval and authorization of the patient as transmitted to and verified by this office; 3) requests must be on the basis of what has been demonstrated to be informed, non-coerced consent and 4) must specify to whom such information is to be imparted and 5) for what purpose, defined as specifically and narrowly as possible; 6) requests must stipulate a date that limits the validity of the request, but which may not exceed six months from the date when the release was signed unless waived by the patient; 7) third parties must affirm in writing that the information received will be used for the purpose stated, for no other purpose, and will not be re-disclosed to any other party without additional one-time-only authorization by the patient; 8) this office will make a determination as to whether the information requested is within the scope of the stated purpose; only that information deemed to fall within the scope of purpose will be released, based on these criteria; 9) if you should become incapacitated or die, these criteria remain in place. If a biographer, journalist or historian should express interest in interviewing me concerning our work, such interviews will be denied and no records will be made available unless you have previously given explicit permission indicating the person or persons to whom such information may be made available.
Storage of Medical Records
The medical record for a person seeking and receiving care in this office is divided and stored in 4 places: 1) a clinical notebook that contains an initial interview and perhaps notes of additional interviews, 2) a password-protected computer folder for non-psychotherapy psychiatric notes (routinely backed-up), 3) a notebook for psychotherapy notes (note that for certain patients, psychotherapy notes may not be taken or, in other instances, retained), and 4) when applicable, a paper folder to receive papers, cards, and documents related to patient care. In compliance with HIPAA, this office “maintains reasonable and appropriate administrative and physical safeguards to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the information and [seeks] to protect against any reasonably anticipated threats or hazards to the security or integrity of the information and unauthorized uses or disclosures . . .”
The patient medical record is kept indefinitely. This is to ensure continuity of patient care and to document treatment decisions. Records are stored in a password-secured computer and in a locked office accessible only to myself. Similarly, the clinical notebook and paper folder are kept in a locked office. Following HIPAA’s Privacy Rule, if a storage company is used, a “Business Associate Contract” will be developed. Other employees, if any, will be instructed and supervised with respect to privacy and care of patient records.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides special protection for psychotherapy notes. Psychotherapy notes are defined as “notes recorded (in any medium) by a health care provider who is a mental health professional documenting or analyzing the contents of a conversation during a private counseling session or a group, joint, or family counseling session and that are separated from the rest of the individual’s medical record.” According to the Privacy Rule, psychotherapy notes are limited to information that is for the therapist’s own purpose and contains sensitive information relevant to no one other than the treating provider. In the event of your death (except as noted above in the 2nd paragraph of “A Continuing Concern,” article 9), or mine, psychotherapy notes are destroyed.
Under HIPAA, patients do not have a right to access their own psychotherapy notes although they do have a right to their non-psychotherapy psychiatric record (see below). A separate authorization, signed by the patient is required for release of psychotherapy notes to a third party, such as attorneys or other treating physicians. A consent form is not sufficient for release of psychotherapy notes. A specific authorization form needs to be completed that indicates the recipient of the material, date, restrictions, and so forth. However, authorization is not required for use by the provider in a training program or to defend a legal action or other proceeding brought by the patient, if demanded by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) or otherwise as required by law, health oversight or investigation of the provider, and may be released on the request by coroners and if necessary to avert serious threat to health or safety. Health plans have no access to psychotherapy notes. Health plans that demand psychotherapy notes, or information from those notes, will be reported by this office to the Health and Human Services Administration (HHS).
Non-Psychotherapy Psychiatric Notes
Clinical psychiatric notes consist of the items listed below and are not found in the psychotherapy portion of the medical record. The separation of clinical psychiatric notes from psychotherapy notes was instituted in this practice in September, 2002. Clinical psychiatry notes include 1) medication prescribing and monitoring, 2) session dates, 3) modalities and frequencies of treatment, 4) results of clinical tests, and 5) any statement or summary of the following: diagnosis, functional status, treatment plan, symptoms, prognosis, progress to date. When there is no material change in psychiatric status, a session note may read : “No change in clinical status.”
Patients may request copies of these records although it may be clinically wise to review them with me.
You may inspect and obtain a copy of your protected health information that is contained in a designated record set for as long as I maintain the protected health information. A “designated record set” contains non-psychotherapy psychiatric records. Under federal law, however, you may not inspect or copy the following records; psychotherapy notes; information compiled in reasonable anticipation of, or use in, a civil, criminal, or administrative action or proceeding, and protected health information that is subject to law that prohibits access to protected health information. In some circumstances, you may have a right to have this decision reviewed. Please speak to me about this.
You may have the right to have me amend your protected health information. This means you may request an amendment of protected health information about you in a designated record set for as long as I maintain this information. In certain cases, I may deny your request for an amendment. If I deny your request for amendment, you have the right to file a statement of disagreement with me and I may prepare a rebuttal to your statement and will provide you with a copy of any such rebuttal. Please speak to me about this if you have questions about amending your medical record.
You have the right to receive an accounting of certain disclosures I have made, if any, of your protected health information. This right applies to disclosures for purposes other than treatment, payment or healthcare operations as described in this Notice of Privacy Practices. You have the right to receive specific information regarding these disclosures that occurred after April 14, 2003. You may request a shorter timeframe. The right to receive this information is subject to certain exceptions, restrictions and limitations.
You may complain to the Secretary of Health and Human Services if you believe your privacy rights have been violated by this office.
In professional clinical case presentations (oral or written), clinical material arising from our actual work together may be utilized a) so long as it is judged that only a professional audience is the targeted group and no others would normally come across this presentation, and b) when there has been redaction of all identifying personal information, and c) when there has been the substitution of disguising or dis-informing material for actual clinical data. All three criteria need to be fulfilled. There may be instances where I would ask for your explicit consent and explore your views on the matter before seeking to present or publish any clinical material drawn from our clinical work together.
Return To Main Page
Academy Presentation on "Cast Away"