Visitor Question

Disclosing info to spouse?

Submitted By: Danielle (Philadelphia, PA, USA)

I am a patient at the same hospital where my husband works. I asked my husband to drop off a stool sample for me. He dropped the sample off and later that day a tech asked him if I was still vomiting or having diarrhea. My husband was confused and the tech asked if I was indeed his wife.

My husband replied, “yes” but had no idea about the vomiting or diarrhea. I contacted the lab tech’s supervisor who told me that she does not process the specimens so she would have had to gone into my records to access this info.

Even if she had authority to go into my records, is telling my husband this information violating HIPAA or confidentiality laws? Are spouses automatically covered, even if a release isn’t signed? Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Danielle,

From the facts you present, a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act) violation did not take place.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, a violation of HIPAA occurs when a willful and unauthorized dissemination of patient information occurs. A violation does not occur when the disclosure of information is:

“Any unintentional acquisition, access, or use of protected health information by a workforce member or person acting under the authority of a covered entity or a business associate, if such acquisition, access, or use was made in good faith and within the scope of authority and does not result in further use or disclosure.”

From the facts you present the disclosure was harmless at most, and certainly was not an intentional breach of HIPAA.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: February 9, 2015

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