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HIPAA Q&A: You've got questions. We've got answers!

HIM-HIPAA Insider, July 28, 2014

Submit your HIPAA questions to Editor Jaclyn Fitzgerald at jfitzgeraldAhcpro.com and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.

Q: I'm curious about how much authority law enforcement officials have at a hospital. For example, a law enforcement official calls the hospital and tells the unit secretary that he thinks a patient with a warrant has been admitted to or seen at our hospital's psychiatric/behavioral health unit. The officer provides the name of the patient and asks the unit secretary to confirm whether she has been at our hospital. The rules seem to vary for psychiatric/behavioral health and I want to ensure we handle this correctly. What is the appropriate response pursuant to HIPAA? Where can I find the HIPAA rules for psychiatric/behavioral health so I can keep hard copy in my files?

A: In February 2014, OCR issued a new guidance on sharing information related to mental health by searching for "mental health guidance" on HHS' HIPAA Privacy website.

In the situation you describe, you may confirm whether the individual has been treated at your facility. The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits a covered entity (CE) such as a hospital to disclose certain PHI, including the date and time of admission and discharge, in response to a law enforcement official's request, for the purpose of locating or identifying a suspect, fugitive, material witness, or missing person. (Refer to 45 CFR 164.512(f)(2)).

Under this provision, a CE may disclose the following information about an individual:

  • Name and address
  • Date and place of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Blood type and Rh factor
  • Type of injury
  • Date and time of treatment, including date and time of admission and discharge
  • Distinguishing physical characteristics such as height and weight

The law enforcement official's request may be made verbally or in writing.

Editor's note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of health information at Baylor Scott & White Health in Temple, Texas, answered this question for HCPro 's Briefings on HIPAA newsletter.


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