Legislators have revisited the issue of whether medical record privacy laws, like HIPAA, are too restrictive and hinder doctors' ability to treat mentally ill patients, the Congressional Quarterly (CQ) reported in an article (subscription required) published on March 11.
According to the article, doctors tend to err on the side of caution when asked to disclose medical records for fear of reprisal under HIPAA. In many cases, doctors may be permitted to disclose certain information to others but do not because they are not familiar enough with the applicable HIPAA exceptions, CQ reported. Similarly, family member caretakers who often need private medical information to care for someone with mental illness, are frequently turned away, CQ said.
Professor Robert Field, a nationally recognized expert on health policy and public health law, commented on the conflicting interests. “On the one hand, you have a compelling need for others to access the records because the patient may not be able to make decisions for themselves,” Field said. “But on the other hand, the release of the information can be particularly damaging.” Field added that improperly released medical records could hurt patients years after successful treatment concluded. Former patients might have trouble finding work or suffer some other type of public humiliation if records were wrongfully disclosed, Field claimed.