When a family member or a friend is a patient, there is a balancing act between open communication and protection of privacy. We maintain strict compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), requiring the confidentiality of a patient's protected (and private) health information. The application of this law can sometimes be confusing. To learn more about HIPAA, how private information is communicated with other family members, how to give another person legal authority to seek treatment for a minor, and other frequently asked questions, click on the tabs below.
If a patient is present and is able to make his or her own decisions, the patient can decide who should be included in communication or discussions regarding his or her health status and medical care. This may include family members or friends.
If the patient is not present at the time, (for example when a son or daughter calls the doctor to ask for information about the care of a parent) the health care provider may use his or her professional judgment and provide information if it is in the patient's best interest. The health care provider should disclose only the PHI that is directly relevant to that person's involvement with the patient's care.
To protect a patient's privacy and to ensure that our clinic staff and physicians know whom they have permission to communicate with regarding a patient's PHI, it is helpful for patients to have a Permission for Verbal Communications form (PDF) on file at their clinic.
Patients can use the form to identify family members or friends involved in their medical care, who have permission to discuss health information in person or by telephone with their health care providers.
The Authorization for Treatment of Minors and Substituted Consent for Treatment of Minors forms can be useful documents for a parent or legal guardian to proactively give another person legal authority to seek medical treatment for their minor child. A minor is considered to be an individual under the age of 18, and for most medical services, a parent/guardian is required to provide consent for a minor to receive medical treatment. The forms are very similar, but their differences are explained below.
The Authorization for Treatment of Minors form can be used when it is not necessary to try to contact the parent/guardian prior to treatment. An example of when this form could be used is in the situation where a teenager is undergoing weekly allergy injections. The teen drives herself to the appointment and the parent does not wish to be present. The parent could complete this form to allow the teen to receive the weekly allergy shots without a parent having to be present or to be contacted by phone for verbal consent. Another example is when both parents are traveling out of the country and not easily reachable. The parents could give another individual (such as a relative) authorization to seek treatment for the minor without the parents being contacted.
The Substituted Consent for Treatment of Minors is a form that can be used when a parent/guardian wants to give another individual the ability to seek treatment of their child; however, that parent/guardian still wants to be contacted, if possible, to provide verbal consent. An example of when this form could be useful is when a child spends time with a child care provider. If the child gets sick or suffers an injury, the child care provider can seek treatment for the child; however, it is the obligation of the health care provider to still try to contact the parent/guardian first for verbal consent. If a parent/guardian is not reachable, the health care provider can rely on this form to provide medical care to the child.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the permission for Verbal Communications Form?
In some cases, a family member or friend may be closely involved in the care of the patient over a long period of time. This form allows patients to designate the family members or friends involved in the patient's care. When the patient signs this form, they are indicating that clinical staff can speak with the individuals listed on the form about health care issues involving the patient.
Should every patient fill out this form?
No. Some patients may not want a health care provider to communicate with family members or friends about their medical condition. This form should only be filled out if the patient wants their health care provider to be able to talk to a family member or friend about the patient's medical care. The form is a tool to help document the patient's wishes. In most cases, the need for this type of communication will not be based on a one-time discussion between the health care provider and designated individual(s). Instead, it will involve many discussions which will take place over a long period of time.
How many people can the patient designate?
There is no limit to the number of people that the patient can designate as having permission to talk to the patient's health care provider. However, in most cases it will be limited to one or two very close family members or friends who routinely assist the patient with their medical care.
Can a health care provider talk to others about the patient's care, even if the patient did not complete the Permission for Verbal Communications form?
In many cases, a health care provider can talk to family members or friends even though this form has not been completed.
- - If the patient is present, and has the capacity to object to the communication if they wish, and the patient does not do so, it is okay to talk to family members or friends about the patient's care.
- - If the patient is present and does not have the capacity to object, or if the patient is not present, the health care provider can exercise professional judgment and determine if the verbal disclosure of information is in the patient's best interest.
- - In cases of emergency, the health care provider can exercise professional judgment to determine if it is appropriate to communicate with others if it is in the best interest of the patient.
In situations where the patient has not expressly confirmed that the health care provider is allowed to communicate with a family member or friend, the information that is communicated should be limited to that information directly related to the person's involvement with the patient's health care.
Who at Dean Clinic can discuss patient information with another person based on this form?
Any health care provider, including physicians and clinic staff may discuss patient information with another person based on this form. Patient advocates, and business office staff may also discuss patient information with another person based on this form.
What information can be released based on this form?
Verbal information relating to the patient's medical care and treatment can be released to the people named on this form.
Can the patient limit the type of information released by the health care provider?
Yes. There is a section on the form where the patient can limit the type of medical condition the health care provider can discuss. In situations where the health care provider has exercised professional judgment and determined it is in the patient's best interest to communicate with a family member or friend, the information that is communicated should be limited to that information directly related to the person's involvement with the patient's health care.
Can copies of medical records be released based on this form?
What should a patient do after they have signed this form?
The patient should give this form to their health care provider or to the Health Information Services/Medical Records Department at the site where they receive care.
What if the patient no longer wants a designated person to communicate with their health care provider?
For all Dean Clinic sites: The patient should inform their health care provider that they no longer authorize communications with the designated person(s) about their medical condition AND send written verification of this fact to:
Dean Clinic Attention: Release of Information Specialist Health Information Services 1313 Fish Hatchery Road Madison, WI 53715
For all St. Mary's Dean Ventures clinic sites: The patient should inform their health care provider that they no longer authorize communications with the designated person(s) about their medical condition AND send written verification of this fact to the Medical Records Department at the site where they receive their care.
Click here to find clinic locations