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"Innocuous" Disclosure to Unauthorized family member ok?

December 17, 2015

Question:

Hi Jennifer,

If a patient's spouse calls to see whether the patient is done with their appointment, can I answer if the patient has not indicated the spouse is an authorized person?
Thanks for answering. 

M
Answer:

Generally, when there is no emergency and the spouse or any other unauthorized person is asking after a patient and that person has not specifically been cleared in writing by the patient for disclosures, no, you should not be providing any information on the patient's care - whether treatment or payment related.  There are certain exceptions in cases of emergency or where a public threat exists or court/government ordered.

One of the easiest ways to prevent against this situation happening is to confirm you have a section on your intake forms that allows the patient to list authorized family.  I situation I encountered years ago involved a disclosure of medication to a boyfriend in an emergency situation, where the girlfriend had been committed. Long story short, the girlfriend reported the doctor for releasing medication information to the boyfriend, as the girlfriend claimed he was not authorized despite having accompanied her to prior appointments.  

Best case: limit disclosures as much as possible.  

 
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