Basic HIPAA Overview

Social Worker Resource
July 18, 2012 — 11,416 views  
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According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, or the Privacy Rule, was the first set of national standards for protection of health information. In 1996, the department implemented the Human Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The main goal of the HIPAA Privacy Rule is to insure an individual's health information remains confidential in order to protect the patient's well being and the public's health.

HIPAA gives patients a variety of rights in terms of ensuring their medical and personal information remains confidential. Federal protections for personal health information is meant to help patients, while at the same time permitting the disclosure of information to healthcare professionals and other certified personnel as needed for patient care and other purposes.

The Privacy and Security Rules apply only to covered entities, or individuals, organizations and agencies that meet the definition of a covered entity under HIPAA, states the Department of HHS. Social workers are among the entities that must comply with HIPAA guidelines. The nature of social work and the sensitivity that accompanies substance abuse, mental illness and the array of other cases in which social workers are involved, require these professionals to fully understand HIPAA regulations.

Protected health information includes all information that identifies a person, information about a person's health, health care or payment of health care and information created or received by a health care provider.

There are a number of exceptions under the HIPAA regulation that call for a patient's or client's protected health information to be disclosed such as when it is required by law, required for public health activities and required from victims of abuse, neglect or domestic violence. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Psychotherapy notes have special privacy protections under HIPAA that social workers should be aware of. For instance, they are excluded from the provision that gives clients the right to see and copy their health information.

The implications of HIPAA for social workers is ever changing. It is important social workers abide by the basics of patient and client privacy by not discussing his or her personal information with others and keeping all information revealed at a minimum when it is essential to treatment or payment. The various facets of HIPAA are comprehensive, so the best way for a social worker or healthcare professional to accurately understand its components and stay abreast of the latest information is to reference websites such as HHS, NASW and Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

Social Worker Resource