Medicare clarifies privacy of health info

When transferring private health information to potential post-acute providers, discharge planners need to be aware of some facts about the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

According to MLN Matters, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provides a clarification about HIPAA's medical privacy rule, including the following:

• Discharge planners do not need to obtain signed consent forms from patients before sharing their medical information for treatment purposes.

• HHS adopted specific modifications to the rule in August 2002, which clarify that incidental disclosures do not violate the Privacy Rule when providers have common sense policies which reasonably safeguard and appropriately limit how protected health information is used and disclosed.

*Doctors and other providers, including discharge planners, can share needed information with patients' families, friends, or anyone else identified by patients as involved in their care as long as the patient agrees.

* Health care providers can use electronic communication methods to contact patients, providers, and others as long as common sense is followed.