Privacy/HIPAA -Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic

This notice describes how medical information about you may be used and disclosed and how you can get access to this information.  Please review it carefully.

Privacy is a very important concern for all those who come to this office. It is also complicated, because of the many federal and state laws and our professional ethics. Because the rules are so complicated, some parts of this notice are very detailed, and you probably will have to read them several times to understand them. If you have any questions, our privacy officer will be happy to help you understand our procedures and your rights. His or her name and address are at the end of this notice.

The Psychology Licensing Law provides extremely strong privileged communication protections for conversations between your therapist and you in the context of your established professional relationship with your therapist.  There is a difference between privileged conversations and documentation in your mental health records.  Records are kept to document your care as required by law, professional standards, and other review procedures.  HIPAA very clearly defines what kind of information is to be included in your “designated medical record” as well as some material, known as “Psychotherapy Notes” which is not accessible to insurance companies and other third-party reviewers and in some cases, not to the patient himself/herself.

A. What we mean by your medical information

Each time you visit us or any doctor’s office, hospital, clinic, or other health care provider, information is collected about you and your physical and mental health. It may be information about your past, present, or future health or conditions, or the tests and treatment you got from us or from others, or about payment for health care. The information we collect from you is called “PHI,” which stands for “protected health information.” This information goes into your medical or health care records in our office.

In this office, your PHI is likely to include these kinds of information:

  • Your history: Things that happened to you as a child; your school and work experiences; your relationship history and other personal history.
  • Reasons you came for treatment: Your problems, complaints, symptoms, or needs.
  • Diagnoses: These are the medical terms for your problems or symptoms.
  • A treatment plan: This is a list of the treatments and other services that we think will best help you.
  • Progress notes: Each time you come in, we write down some things about how you are doing, what we notice about you, and what you tell us.
  • Records we get from others who treated you or evaluated you.
  • Psychological test scores, school records, and other reports.
  • Information about medications you took or are taking.
  • Legal matters.
  • Billing and insurance information

There may also be other kinds of information that go into your health care records here.

We use PHI for many purposes. For example, we may use it:

  • To plan your care and treatment.
  • To decide how well our treatments are working for you.
  • When we talk with other health care professionals who are also treating you, such as your family doctor or the professional who referred you to us.
  • To show that you actually received services from us.
  • For teaching and training other healthcare professionals.
  • For medical or psychological research.
  • For public health officials trying to improve health care in this area of the country.
  • To improve the way we do our job by measuring the results of our work.

When you understand what is in your record and what it is used for, you can make better decisions about whom, when, and why others should have this information.

Although your health care records in our office are our physical property, the information belongs to you. You can read your records, and if you want a copy we can make one for you (but we may charge you for the costs of copying and mailing, if you want it mailed to you). In some very rare situations, you cannot see all of what is in your records.  If you find anything in your records that you think is incorrect or believe that something important is missing, you can ask us to amend your records.  In some rare situations we don’t have to agree to do that. If you want, our privacy officer, whose name is at the end of this notice, can explain more about this.

In recognition of the importance of the confidentiality of conversations between psychotherapist and clients in treatment settings, HIPAA permits keeping “psychotherapy notes” separate from the overall “designated medical record”.  “Psychotherapy notes” cannot be secured by insurance companies nor can they insist upon their release for payment of services.  “Psychotherapy notes” are the notes of the therapist “recorded in any medium by a mental health provider documenting and analyzing the contents of a conversation during a private, group or joint family counseling session and that are separated from the rest of the individual’s medical record.”  “Psychotherapy notes” are necessarily more private and contain much more personal information about you hence, the need for increased security of the notes.  “Psychotherapy notes” are not the same as your “progress notes” which provide the following information about your care each time you have an appointment at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic:  medication prescriptions and monitoring, assessment/treatment start and stop times, the modalities of care, frequency of treatment furnished, results of psychological tests, and any summary of your diagnosis, functional status, treatment plan, symptoms, prognosis, and progress to date.

B. Privacy and the laws about privacy

We are required to tell you about privacy because of a federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA requires us to keep your PHI private and to give you this notice about our legal duties and our privacy practices. We will obey the rules described in this notice. You will be notified immediately in the event of a breach of your protected health information. If we change our privacy practices, they will apply to the entire PHI we keep. We will also post the new notice of privacy practices in our office where everyone can see. You or anyone else can also get a copy from our privacy officer at any time. It is also posted on our website   www.etsu.edu/cas/psychology/bhwc.

C. How your protected health information can be used and shared

Except in some special circumstances, when we use your PHI in this office or disclose it to others, we share only the minimum necessary PHI needed for those other people to do their jobs. The law gives you rights to know about your PHI, to know how it is used, and to have a say in how it is shared. So we will tell you more about what we do with your information.

Mainly, we will use and disclose your PHI for routine purposes to provide for your care, and we will explain more about these below. We will not sell any information for marketing or sales. For other uses, we must tell you about them and ask you to sign a written authorization form. However, the law also says that there are some uses and disclosures that don’t need your consent or authorization.

1. Uses and disclosures with your consent

After you have read this notice, you will be asked to sign a separate consent form to allow us to use and share your PHI. In almost all cases we intend to use your PHI here or share it with other people or organizations to provide treatment to you, arrange for payment for our services, or some other business functions called “health care operations.”  In other words, we need information about you and your condition to provide care to you. You have to agree to let us collect the information, use it, and share it to care for you properly. Therefore, you must sign the consent form before we begin to treat you. If you do not agree and consent we cannot treat you. We will never sell or share information about you for marketing or sales.

a. The basic uses and disclosure

Next, we will tell you more about how your information will be used for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations.

For treatment:  We use your medical information to provide you with psychological treatments or services. These might include individual, family, or group therapy; psychological, educational, or vocational testing; treatment planning; or measuring the benefits of our services.

We may share your PHI with others who provide treatment to you. We are likely to share your information with your personal physician. If you are being treated by a team, we can share some of your PHI with the team members, so that the services you receive will work best together. The other professionals treating you will also enter their findings, the actions they took, and their plans into your medical record, and so we all can decide what treatments work best for you and make up a treatment plan. We may refer you to other professionals or consultants for services we cannot provide. When we do this, we need to tell them things about you and your conditions. We will get back their findings and opinions, and those will go into your records here. If you receive treatment in the future from other professionals, we can also share your PHI with them. These are some examples so that you can see how we use and disclose your PHI for treatment.

For payment:  We may use your information to bill you or other responsible parties so we can be paid for the treatments we provide to you.

For health care operations:  Using or disclosing your PHI for health care operations goes beyond our care and your payment. For example, we may use your PHI to see where we can make improvements in the care and services we provide. We may be required to supply some information to some government health agencies, so they can study disorders and treatment and make plans for services that are needed. If we do, your name and personal information will be removed from what we send.

b. Other uses and disclosures in health care

Appointment reminder:  We may use and disclose your PHI to reschedule or remind you of appointments for treatment or other care. If you want us to call or write to you only at your home or your work, or you prefer some other way to reach you, we usually can arrange that. Just tell us.

Treatment alternatives:  We may use and disclose your PHI to tell you about or recommend possible treatments or alternatives that may be of help to you.

Other benefits and services:  We may use and disclose your PHI to tell you about health-related benefits or services that may be of interest to you.

Research:  We may use or share your PHI to do research to improve treatments—for example, comparing two treatments for the same disorder, to see which works better or faster or costs less. In all cases, your name, address, and other personal information will be removed from the information given to researchers. If they need to know who you are, we will discuss the research project with you, and we will not send any information unless you sign a special authorization form.

Business associates:  We may hire other businesses or individuals to do some jobs for us. In the law, they are called our “business associates.” Examples might include a billing service to figure out, print, and mail our bills or a child care attendant. These business associates need to receive some of your PHI to do their jobs properly. To protect your privacy, they have agreed in their contract with us to safeguard your information.

2. Uses and disclosures that require your authorization

If we want to use your information for any purpose besides those described above, we need your permission on an authorization form. We don’t expect to need this very often. If you do allow us to use or disclose your PHI, you can cancel that permission in writing at any time. We would then stop using or disclosing your information for that purpose. Of course, we cannot take back any information we have already disclosed or used with your permission.

3. Uses and disclosures that don’t require your consent or authorization

The law lets us use and disclose some of your PHI without your consent or authorization in some cases. Here are some examples of when we might do this.

a. When required by law

There are some federal, state, or local laws that require us to disclose PHI:

-     We have to report suspected child abuse. If you are involved in a lawsuit or legal proceeding, and we receive a subpoena, discovery request, or other lawful process, we may have to release some of your PHI. We will only do so after trying to tell you about the request, consulting your lawyer, or trying to get a court order to protect the information they requested.

-     We have to disclose some information to the government agencies that check on us to see that we are obeying the privacy laws.

b. For law enforcement purposes

We may release medical information if asked to do so by a law enforcement official to investigate a crime or criminal.

c. For public health activities

We may disclose some of your PHI to agencies that investigate diseases or injuries.

d. Relating to decedents

We may disclose PHI to coroners, medical examiners, or funeral directors, and to organizations relating to organ, eye, or tissue donations or transplants.

e. For specific government functions

We may disclose PHI of military personnel and veterans to government benefit programs relating to eligibility and enrollment. We may disclose your PHI to workers’ compensation and disability programs, to correctional facilities if you are an inmate, or to other government agencies for national security reasons.

f. To prevent a serious threat to health or safety

If we come to believe that there is a serious threat to your health or safety, or that of another person or the public, we can disclose some of your PHI. We will only do this to persons who can prevent the danger.

4. Uses and disclosures where you have an opportunity to object

We can share some information about you with your family or close others. We will only share information with those involved in your care and anyone else you choose, such as close friends or clergy. We will ask you which persons you want us to tell, and what information you want us to tell them, about your condition or treatment. You can tell us what you want, and we will honor your wishes as long as it is not against the law.

If it is an emergency, and so we cannot ask if you disagree, we can share information if we believe that it is what you would have wanted and if we believe it will help you if we do share it. If we do share information during an emergency, we will tell you as soon as we can. If you don’t approve we will stop, as long as it is not against the law.

5. An accounting of disclosures we have made

When we disclose your PHI, we may keep records indicating to whom it was sent, when we sent it, and what we sent. You can get an accounting (a list) of many of these disclosures.

D. Your rights concerning your health information

  1. You can ask us to communicate with you about your health and related issues in a particular way or at a certain place that is more private for you. For example, you can ask us to call you at home, rather than at work, to schedule or cancel an appointment. We will try our best to do as you ask.
  2. You have the right to ask us to limit what we tell people involved in your care or with payment for your care, such as family members and friends. We don’t have to agree to your request, but if we do agree, we will honor it except when it is against the law, in an emergency, or when the information is necessary to treat you.
  3. You have the right to look at the health information we have about you, such as your medical and billing records. You can get a copy of these records, but we may charge you. Contact our privacy officer to arrange how to see your records. (See below.)
  4. If you believe that the information in your records is incorrect or missing something important, you can ask us to make additions to your records to correct the situation. You have to make this request in writing and send it to our privacy officer. You must also tell us the reasons you want to make the changes.
  5. You have the right to a copy of this notice. If we change this notice, we will post the new one in our waiting area, and you can always get a copy from the privacy officer.
  6. You have the right to file a complaint if you believe your privacy rights have been violated. You can file a complaint with our privacy officer and with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All complaints must be in writing. Filing a complaint will not change the health care we provide to you in any way. You may have other rights that are granted to you by the laws of our state, and these may be the same as or different from the rights described above. We will be happy to discuss these situations with you now or as they arise.

E. If you have questions or problems

If you need more information or have questions about the privacy practices described above, please speak to the privacy officer, whose name and telephone number are listed below. If you have a problem with how your PHI has been handled, or if you believe your privacy rights have been violated, contact the privacy officer. As stated above, you have the right to file a complaint with us and with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We promise that we will not in any way limit your care here or take any actions against you if you complain. If you have any questions or problems about this notice or our health information privacy policies, please contact our privacy officer, Dr. Kerry Holland. She can be reached by phone at 423-439-7777.  The effective date of this notice is April 14, 2003, revised September 20, 2013.