As the world rapidly evolves in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are looking for answers regarding questions about health care privacy and rights. Covid-19 test results are crucial to understanding, mitigating and containing the pandemic, but many people are justifiably concerned about who has access to their testing information and how it’s being shared.
Covid-19 and HIPAA
Generally, the status and history of your health is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. Established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), this rule “establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information,” according to HIPAA.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, some of these rules and regulations have been rolled back, so you should be aware of the ways your health information can be shared under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
In the event of outbreaks like the one we’re currently experiencing, your health information can be disclosed and shared under certain circumstances. For example, your health information can be shared in order to “treat a patient, protect the nation’s public health, and for other critical purposes,” according to HHS.
If you’ve had any type of medical appointment during the Covid-19 pandemic, you might already be aware of these changes to HIPAA rules. In order to limit exposure to Covid-19, many medical appointments are now conducted virtually, through platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and Microsoft Teams. If you’ve agreed to a telehealth appointment, you’ve probably been told that HIPAA violation penalties have been loosened in order to conduct these types of virtual appointments.
Who has access to my Covid-19 test results?
If you’ve been infected with, or exposed to, Covid-19, your information can be shared without your permission under certain circumstances by a covered entity, such as a hospital or health care provider.
According to HHS, these circumstances include:
- When the disclosure is needed to provide treatment
- When it’s required by law (if your state law requires the reporting of confirmed or suspected cases to public health officials)
- To notify a public health authority in order to prevent or control the spread of disease (such as the CDC, or state and local public health authorities)
- When first responders may be at risk of infection
- When the disclosure of protected health information (PHI) to first responders is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public
- When responding to a request for PHI by a correctional institution or law enforcement official having lawful custody of an inmate or other individual
Even though these rules have been rolled back, a hospital or health care provider must still make reasonable efforts to limit the way they share your information, except when they’re required to by law.
Police, first responders and your Covid-19 test results
In order to protect first responders such as police and paramedics, a hospital can provide a list of the “names and addresses of all individuals it knows to have tested positive, or received treatment, for Covid-19, to an EMS dispatch for use on a per-call basis,” according to HHS.
For instance, an EMS dispatch can use information on the list to inform responding EMS personnel so that they can take extra precautions or use personal protective equipment (PPE). This information is not shared broadly with first responders, only on a per-call basis.
Are my Covid-19 test results public?
It’s important to note that hospitals and health care providers can not publicly post information such as addresses, specific tests, or test results revealing your identity. This information cannot be shared on a website or through the media without your written consent.
Covid-19 tests and my employer
In order to keep your coworkers and yourself safe at work, Covid-19 tests can be conducted by your employer and employers can choose who they allow on-site based on the results of your test, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Employers can make Covid-19 tests mandatory if your job is “related and consistent with business necessity.”
It’s likely that testing for Covid-19 will become a way of life for most Americans, especially as employees look to re-enter offices, warehouses and small businesses across the country.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, JDP offers Covid-19 antibody tests, which investigates whether an individual has likely been exposed to the virus in the past and has developed antibodies.
For more information on Covid-19 antibody testing, or to order a test, click here.
Please note that this information is provided as a summary of important guidance from the Federal government and is not meant to convey a legal opinion. Federal guidance is frequently updated and we encourage you to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website to get the latest updates on HIPAA and Covid-19. In addition, state and local directives will directly impact privacy related to COVID-19. Employers should contact their state and local authorities for further guidance.