We’ve been asking you to submit your most pressing HIPAA-related social media questions, and a couple came in that I think are important, common questions.
Question 1: How do you handle the release of information process in light of HIPAA in regards to stepparents of patients?
As a risk management rule of thumb, I typically ask biological parents to list stepparents as those to whom you can release information. Such information can be captured on the Acknowledgement of Notice of Privacy Practices form. In many instances, it can become sticky when stepparents carry the insurance for stepchildren. And you may not always know what the relationship is like between divorced parents and stepparents. As such, having permission in writing helps eliminate headaches for the practice.
Whether or not a stepparent is considered a legal guardian depends upon your state law, and you may need to consult with an attorney in your area who specializes in family law.
Question 2: Is it okay to post pictures of just someone’s smile, tooth, or gums?
This is a great question, and the answer isn’t always an easy one. When it comes to posting pictures of only a tooth or several teeth (not a smile photo), I recommend using discretion. If you are illustrating how the use of an intraoral camera detects broken-down restorations, that scenario probably won’t involve any patient information. In that case, you are focusing on the benefits of technology and not the patient’s condition. However, if you are illustrating a rare dental anomaly it may be a different story. That patient may be more sensitive to having information posted on social media, and having authorization from the patient to use the information may be warranted. In an abundance of respect for patients, I typically recommend obtaining authorization for smile photos, such as illustrations of before/after bleaching, veneers, etc.