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HIPAA Privacy Rule: Children & Adolescents

Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

This lesson will explain the policies included in HIPAA's Privacy Rule that protect the privacy of health information for minors. It will also explore the rights of adolescents and their parents or personal representatives.

HIPAA, Privacy, and Minors

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly referred to as HIPAA, is legislation that sets national standards to protect the privacy of patients' medical records and personal information. What happens if the patient is a minor, meaning the patient is less than eighteen years old? Let's take a look at how HIPAA and the Privacy Rule provides protections to children and adolescents.

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Policies to Protect Minors

According to the Privacy Rule, which was enacted in 2002 as part of HIPAA, any patient can have a personal representative who has the authority to act on behalf of the patient. This means that health care providers and those subject to the regulations of HIPAA can discuss and share medical information with the patient's personal representative as though they were the actual patient in regards to the patient's medical condition, course of treatment, and payment.

According to the Privacy Rule, if a patient is an unemancipated minor, meaning they are under the age of eighteen and have not been legally released from parental restrictions, then the default personal representative is the child's parent(s) or another designated legal guardian. For example, Joanie is only thirteen and has not been emancipated; therefore, her parents would have the legal authority to make medical decisions on her behalf and take responsibility for her protected information. Basically, Joanie's parents have the right (and obligation) to access and protect Joanie's information just as they would have access to and authorization to protect their own medical information.

That sounds pretty straightforward doesn't it? In the majority of situations, it makes sense that the parents should make decisions and should be informed of any medical treatment their child receives. However, there are situations where this cannot happen, and the Privacy Rule has guidelines for these exceptions as well.

Let's take a look at some specifics regarding Joanie's rights.

Rights of the Minor

HIPAA and the Privacy Rule provide a minor with very specific rights that take into account the patient's maturity. There's also a federal law that supersedes any state or local laws.

  • Independent treatment: Joanie has the right to seek independent treatment if the courts determine that she is mature enough to make decisions for herself.
  • Federal law 42 U.S.C. 290dd: The federal government gives Joanie the right to seek treatment for an alcohol or substance abuse problem without her parents' knowledge or consent no matter which state she lives in.

Special Circumstances

HIPAA and the Privacy Rule also have provisions to cover situations where the parent or guardian may not be willing or able to make decisions in the best interest of the child. Let's look at some of the basic provisions.

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