COVID-19 Telehealth Group Therapy and HIPAA Privacy

Telehealth Group Therapy and HIPAA Privacy Rule

Group Therapy

When dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI) in situations involving telehealth group therapy and HIPAA privacy rule, the clinician may disclose treatment information about a particular patient to certain individuals and entities involved in treatment of that particular patient.

Telehealth Group Therapy and HIPAA: When Can PHI Obtained in the Course of Group Therapy be Disclosed?

In the group therapy setting, more than one individual receives therapy from a practitioner. Group therapy generally focuses on acknowledged client or patient commonalities. For example, group therapists often conduct group therapy sessions for individuals who share similar concerns, such as those who are depressed, or who recently lost a loved one. According to HIPAA, behavioral practitioners of all types may provide therapy to patients in a group setting where other patients and family members are present, without violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule, and without written authorization from the patient, if the disclosure is made to the family member or other person for treatment purposes.

This is because the HIPAA Privacy Rule generally permits a covered entity to disclose protected health information to a family member or other person involved in a patient’s care for treatment purposes. The PHI that may be shared must be directly relevant to the involvement of the family member in the patient’s care.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule does not require that the patient consent to the sharing of PHI for this specific purpose. A provider may nonetheless choose to honor a patient’s objection to the sharing of group therapy-related PHI if the provider believes, in the exercise of his or her medical judgment, that it is prudent to do so.

Client or patient consent may be written or oral. Objection to disclosure may also take either written or oral form. If a patient has the opportunity to prohibit or restrict a use or disclosure, and fails to do so, a provider may infer consent that the patient does not object to the consent.

According to HIPAA guidance, a patient’s agreement to participate in family discussions is a good basis for inferring that the patient has consented to disclosure of PHI to the family member for treatment purposes.

HIPAA Resources

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article and on this blog post are those of the authors. These do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, and position of the Telebehavioral Health Institute (TBHI). Any content written by the authors are their opinion and are not intended to malign any organization, company or individuals.

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