Protecting Your Privacy

Social Workers/Psychotherapists have always managed records with great concern for privacy and confidentially. Although rules for the security of records has continuously been addressed by NASW Code of Ethics as well as State and Federal laws, these have been considerably strengthened by the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The following information provides details about the provisions of the HIPAA and your rights concerning privacy and your psychological records.

The following individuals are required by HIPAA to comply with the privacy rules:

  • Your treating therapist (in any discipline)
  • Any administrative assistant or office staff who may have some access to your identifying information
  • Any billing agency or collection agency that handles information about you (name, address, treatment codes or dates).

Your Rights Regarding Medical Information About You

The right to inspect and obtain a copy of your medical record. According to HIPAA rules, consultations are documented in two ways: The clinical record (required) may include the date of your consultations, your reasons for seeking therapy, diagnosis, therapeutic goals, treatment plans, progress, medical and social history, treatment history, functional status, any past records from other providers, as well as any reports to your insurance carrier; Psychotherapy notes (optional), consisting of the specific content or analyses of therapy conversations, how they impact the therapy (including sensitive information that you may reveal that is not required to be included in your clinical record), and my notes that may assist in treatment.

The right to inspect and obtain a copy of your clinical record. Viewing the record is best done during a professional consultation in order to clarify any questions that you might have at the time.  You may be charged a nominal fee for accessing and photocopying the record.  Psychotherapy notes, however, if they are created, are not disclosed to third parties, HMOs, insurance companies, billing agencies, clients, or anyone else.  They are for the therapist’s use in tracking the many details of the consultations that are far too specific to be entered into the clinical record.

The right to request a correction or add an addendum to your record. If you believe that there is an inaccuracy in your clinical record you may request a correction.  If the information is accurate, however, or if it has been provided by a third party (previous therapist, primary care physician, etc.), it may remain unchanged, and the request may be denied.  In this case you will receive an explanation in writing with a full description of the rationale.  You also have the right to make an addition to your record if you think it is incomplete.

The right to an accounting of disclosures of your information to third parties.  You have the right to know if, when, and to whom your information has been disclosed (exclusive of treatment, payment, and health care operations).  However, you likely would already be aware of this, as you would have signed consent forms allowing such disclosures (e.g., disclosures to other psychotherapists, primary care physicians, specialists, etc.). This accounting must extend back for a period of six years.

The right to request restrictions on how your information is used.  You have the right to request restrictions on certain uses or disclosures of your information. These requests must be in writing. These requests will most likely be honored, although in some cases may be denied. Your protected health information will not be released for marketing purposes or any other purpose aside from treatment, payment, healthcare operations, and other exceptions specified in this notice.

The right to request confidential communications.  You have the right to request that I communicate with you about your treatment in a certain way or at a certain location.  For example, you may prefer to be contacted at work instead of at home to schedule or cancel an appointment, or you may wish to receive billing statements at a post office box rather than your home address.

The right to file a complaint.  You have the right to file a complaint if you believe your privacy rights have been violated.  You must do so in writing.  Your complaint may be addressed directly to me or to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.  If you have any questions or concerns about this notice or this health information privacy policy, please contact us.

How the Information About You May Be Used or Disclosed

For Treatment. Information about you will be used to assist in the continuity of treatment and services. This information will not be shared with other health care professionals, however, unless you specifically request or agree to it and sign a consent form to that effect.

For payment. Information about you may be disclosed for billing purposes.  This is generally restricted to your name and other personal identifies (address, and other relevant information such as social security or other needed information), diagnostic and treatment codes, dates of service, and similar information.

For health care operations.Basic identifying information may be shared with an administrative assistant or other staff to assist in scheduling or other treatment procedures.  This would not normally include the contents of your record.

As required by law. It is possible (but unlikely) that the Department of Health and Human Services may review our compliance with the regulations of HIPAA. In such a case, your personal health information could be reviewed as a part of providing evidence of compliance.

If there needs to be contracts with any business associates, there will be a written contract in place with the agency to maintain the security of your information, in compliance with the rules of HIPAA.