When FERPA and HIPAA Collide

A 19-year-old college student uses her university clinic for gynecological visits. Her parents contact the clinic and ask to see her health record in order to find out if she is using birth control. The clinic shares the record with the parents. Did the clinic staff do wrong?

Maybe not.

The behavior would seem to fly in the face of the HIPAA privacy rule, but virtually all public schools and most private and public postsecondary institutions are covered by a different federal law.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, regulates the privacy of students’ education records. These can include student health records if the institution chooses to classify them as such. The HIPAA privacy rule does not apply to records covered by FERPA.

It’s a complicated intersection of federal law, and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education have issued guidance to help schools navigate it. See “When FERPA and HIPAA Collide” in the Winter 2009 issue of AHIMA’s Academic Advisor e-newsletter.

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