One of the many things that family members dislike about the current mental health care system is that care providers frequently believe they cannot communicate openly with family members due to HIPAA laws. From my own experience, I know it is true that the staff of many hospital wards usually place the protection of the patient’s confidentiality above the requests of the family for information, mostly because they are afraid of litigation or complaints. Recently I came across some guidance on this topic from the Department of Health and Human Services (www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/mhguidance.html).
This guidance contains the following passage:
“However, there may be additional situations in which a health care provider believes, based on professional judgment, that the patient does not have the capacity to agree or object to the sharing of personal health information at a particular time and that sharing the information is in the best interests of the patient at that time. …
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