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HHS Issues HIPAA Guidance  on Sharing Information Related to Mental Health

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released new guidance explaining how the HIPAA Privacy Rule operates to protect individuals’ privacy rights with respect to their mental health information. The guidelines also detail in what circumstances the Privacy Rule permits healthcare providers to communicate with patients’ family members and others to enhance treatment and assure safety. The acronym “HIPAA” refers to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Published in late February, the guidance addresses some of the more frequently asked questions about when it is appropriate under the Privacy Rule for a healthcare provider to share the protected health information of a patient who is being treated for a mental health condition. The HHS Office for Civil Rights clarifies when HIPAA permits healthcare providers to communicate with a patient’s family members, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care.

The guidance takes into account whether the patient is an adult or a minor; and considers the patient’s capacity to agree or object to the sharing of their information. In addition, the guidance further clarifies how providers may communicate with family members, law enforcement, or others when the patient presents a serious and imminent threat of harm to themselves or others.  

The guidance also provides relevant reminders about related issues, such as:

  • The heightened protections afforded to psychotherapy notes by the Privacy Rule,
  • A parent’s right to access the protected health information of a minor child as the child’s personal representative,
  • The potential applicability of federal alcohol and drug abuse confidentiality regulations or state laws that may provide more stringent protections for the information than HIPAA, and
  • The intersection of HIPAA and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in a school setting.

The complete HIPAA guidance is available onilne.

Click here for HIPAA FAQs.

Apply for an AMHCA Chapter Development Grant

To fulfill its mission to enhance the profession of mental health counseling with strong and active state chapters, AMHCA’s board of directors may award grants to an AMHCA state chapter with a distinct need to enhance its development and functioning. These funds may be applied toward, for example:

  • Membership development plans,
  • Leadership development, or
  • Legislative or public policy efforts within their states that would improve the functioning of the state chapter or strengthen the practice of counseling.

Grant amounts are typically $1,000, but range from $500 to $2,500, with the expectation that chapters will match the funds.

The Chapter Development Grant Selection Committee consists of AMHCA’s four regional directors and the director-at-large. The grant awards are competitive and may be distributed to one chapter, or partial funding may be awarded to more than one proposal.

Deadlines for review occur twice annually, on April 1 and October 1. The next deadline is April 1, 2014. 

Next Deadline to Apply for Diplomate Credential: March 14

March 14, the deadline for the next cycle of AMHCA’s Diplomate and Clinical Mental Health Specialist (DCMHS) credential, is the last opportunity to apply for the DCMHS, until fall 2014.

The DCMHS recognizes both advanced practice and professional clinical expertise in clinical mental health counseling.