OCR, Education issue guidance on sharing of student health records

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Updated guidance from the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights is seeking to clarify when students’ health information can be shared under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and HIPAA.

The agencies have revised guidance first issued in November 2008 in an effort to help school administrators, healthcare professionals, families and others better understand how FERPA and HIPAA apply to education and health records maintained about students.

In particular, the guidance addresses when a student’s health information can be shared without the written consent of the parent or eligible student under FERPA, or without written authorization under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

“Without a patient’s authorization or agreement, healthcare providers may disclose a patient’s health information to anyone who is in a position to prevent or lessen the threatened harm, including family, friends, caregivers and law enforcement,” states the document.

“This updated resource empowers school officials, healthcare providers and mental health professionals by dispelling the myth that HIPAA prohibits the sharing of health information in emergencies,” said OCR Director Roger Severino in a written statement.

According to the agencies, certain disclosures are allowed without the written consent of the parent or eligible student under FERPA or without authorization under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, especially those related to emergency health or safety situations.

“Healthcare providers may share (protected health information) with anyone as necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the individual, another person, or the public—consistent with applicable law (such as state statutes, regulations or case law) and the provider’s standards of ethical conduct,” according to the guidance.

This sharing of protected health information may include the sharing of psychotherapy notes, which otherwise receive special protection under the Privacy Rule.

“The Trump Administration has made it a priority to help Americans with substance use disorder or serious mental illness and their families, and this resource takes another meaningful step by clarifying how students’ health information can be shared with those in the best position to help them,” added Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

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