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How can I control who gets information about my health care?

By federal law, your medical information is kept private with certain exceptions. Your information may be viewed by anyone who needs it to provide health care to you or to make sure you are receiving quality health care. It may also be used for research and legal purposes, and by government agencies if you are a suspect or victim of a crime.

Your information may also be shared with your family members without your authorization if you cannot consent, such as in a medical emergency. If you have a preference for which family members you want to have access to information about your health care, you should make your wishes known when you are admitted to a medical facility.

Another way you can control who sees your information is to request restrictions on uses or disclosures of your health information. If a health professional or organization agrees to the restriction you request, they must abide by it.

In general, your health information cannot be given to your employer, used or shared for things like sales calls or advertising, or used or shared for many other purposes unless you give your permission by signing an authorization form. This authorization form must tell you who will get your information and what your information will be used for. This is a different form than the document that your provider may ask you to sign on your first visit that tells you how they may use and share your health information and how you can exercise your rights.

Providers generally may not share private notes about mental health counseling sessions unless you give them permission to do so.

You can ask your provider or health insurer not to share your health information with certain people, groups or companies. For example, if you go to a clinic, you could ask the doctor not to share your medical record with other doctors or nurses in the clinic. However, the clinic does not always have to agree to do what you ask. In some cases, for instance, your doctor may need to share your information to ensure proper treatment and coordination of care between doctors in the clinic.

In many circumstances—other than those provided for by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)—you have the right to control who sees or uses your health information. Some examples are:

  • In general, your health information cannot be given to your employer, used or shared for things like sales calls or advertising, or used or shared for many other purposes unless you give your permission by signing an authorization form. This authorization form must tell you who will get your information and what your information will be used for. This is a different form than the document that your healthcare provider may ask you to sign on your first visit that tells you how they may use and share your health information and how you can exercise your rights.
  • Healthcare providers generally may not share private notes about mental health counseling sessions unless you give them permission to do so.
  • You can ask your provider or health insurer not to share your health information with certain people, groups or companies. For example, if you go to a clinic, you could ask the doctor not to share your medical record with other doctors or nurses in the clinic. However, the clinic does not always have to agree to do what you ask. In some cases, for instance, your doctor may need to share your information to ensure proper treatment and coordination of care between doctors in the clinic.

There are federal laws other than HIPAA that protect information related to alcohol and substance abuse treatment that is received at federally-supported treatment centers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.