Sharing Health Records under FERPA

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

The right to privacy for health records is as important as the privacy involving any other personal data. This lesson discusses provisions contained in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in regards to sharing health records with third parties.

The Basic Principle Under FERPA

When you visit your doctor for any health issue, you know that your health records remain confidential. If this were not the case, a pharmaceutical company could bombard you with offers, your employer might look at you differently, etc. For similar reasons, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) ensures the confidentiality of personal data that a school has about its students, including health records. If a student is under 18 years of age, a school can only release data with a parent or legal guardian's authorization . When a student becomes 18 years of age, the school must get his or her authorization to release data.

Same Basic Principle in Another Law

Now that you understand the basic principle of privacy for health records under FERPA, let's learn about a similar law: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This law contains a Privacy Rule that prohibits the release of protected health information (PHI) to third parties without authorization of the patient or their representative.

As you can see, both FERPA and HIPAA concern the privacy of health related information.

However, the two laws often cause misunderstandings. The reason is that schools which receive funding from the federal Department of Education must adhere to both FERPA rules and HIPAA rules regarding privacy if they are covered entities, i.e. schools. Let's explore a practical case.

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