The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act has been re-introduced by Reps. Tim Murphy & Eddie Bernice Johnson in an attempt to bring legislation covering the privacy of mental health patients and their families up to date. The representatives feel that there are too many obstacles getting in the way of the provision of care to patients, with the HIPAA Privacy Rule being one of them.
Virginia State Senator Backs Mental Health Crisis Act
This week, Virginia state senator, Creigh Deeds, testified at a hearing regarding the Mental Health Crisis Act and added his backing to the bill. Deeds has first-hand experience of how HIPAA Privacy Rules can get in the way of the provision of healthcare, often with devastating consequences. Deeds and his son were both victims of legislation introduced with the best intentions, which does not always work to the benefit of the patient under certain circumstances.
Back in November, 2013, Creigh Deeds became the main caregiver for his son, who had previously received an order for involuntary commitments for his own protection. He had suffered from “delusional thinking and sporadic behavior” for a number of years.
However, there was no bed available for Gus Deeds and he had to return home, and Creigh needed to look after him until hospital space became available. Shortly after arriving home, Gus suffered an episode and attacked Creigh before taking his own life.
HIPAA Privacy Rule Getting in the Way of Patient Care
This was an clear instance of HIPAA Privacy Rules interfering with patient care. Under HIPAA Rules, the disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI) is strictly regulated. PHI includes diagnoses, treatment information, symptoms suffered and other information that caregivers should be aware of to ensure proper continuity of care. Unfortunately, in this instance, HIPAA prevented Creigh from being provided with that vital information, even though he had become the main caregiver for his son.
Creigh said in his testimony, “Even though I was the one who cared for him, fed him, housed him, transported him, insured him, I was not privy to any information that could clarify for me his behaviors, his treatment plan, and symptoms to be vigilant about.” Creigh believes that had he had information relating to his sons condition, he may have been able to take action to prevent the attack and suicide.
This tragic failure of the system will not be the last unless privacy rules are eased. The new Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act will go some way to make sure that similar tragedies do not occur in the future.
Not All Agree With Easing of Privacy Protections
Privacy Rules exist to protect the privacy of patients. Any allowable disclosure of PHI is therefore a potential violation of patient privacy. In such a sensitive area of healthcare, privacy standards must be particularly robust. It is important that people concerned about their mental health seek help and receive treatment. In order for many sufferers of mental illness to do that, they must feel safe that the information they provide will remain confidential.