6 Things You Need To Know About Confidentiality In Addiction Treatment

One of the major concerns people suffering from drug addiction have about substance abuse treatment is whether their treatment can remain confidential – and this often prevents them from seeking treatment at all.  They fear losing their job, family, and friends if anyone were to find out about their addiction struggles.  This is why it is so important for those seeking treatment to know their rights and the federal laws protecting their confidentiality.  After all, privacy and protected health information is an important aspect of treatment, and any breach in this privacy can adversely affect you or a loved one’s recovery.

Buprenorphine-doctors.com wants to ensure you are up to date on your understanding of confidentiality agreements when it comes to addiction treatment.  Here are 6 things you need to know about confidentiality, so that you can feel confident about finding the treatment that can help you break free from addiction.

1.     Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

The Federal government designed HIPAA to protect patient confidentiality.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 prevents all federally assisted drug and alcohol treatment centers from releasing patient information without consent.  (See below for extenuating circumstances.)

When you enter treatment and sign an Authorization for Release of Information, you can control how much information an addiction treatment facility can share about your treatment to your family, employer, and anyone else.  This information includes the fact that you are in drug rehab, any progress towards your addiction treatment, your history of substance abuse and medical records, treatments results, and even your participation in aftercare programs.

Treatment centers that fail to follow these regulations face fines and lawsuits, and any licensed employees can lose their licenses or certifications. 

2.     New SAMHSA Ruling

SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, recently implemented a new ruling that changes the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulations.   While patient records are still privacy-protected, the new rule allows for easier exchange of information among health care providers and insurers through integrated health information systems.  Basically, the goal is to make sharing relevant healthcare information more efficient between authorized agencies.

This new ruling has caused concern since ease of sharing seems antithetical to confidentiality, and there are fears of discrimination and consequences if patient records are more available.  However, the new SAMHSA ruling does not negate the strict confidentiality regulations of HIPAA, so personal information is still very much protected.

In fact, this ruling could help addiction treatment providers with improved care coordination.  Alongside opioid or opiate addiction there are often other mental or physical illnesses, and it is important that everyone providing crucial medical care has access to patient records to provide the best possible treatment.  Under the old SAMHSA rule, there were not any clear regulations for sharing information amongst health care providers, so it became complicated and difficult to do.  The new rule does provide the necessary regulations for sharing that allows healthcare providers to offer the best care, while still protecting the patients’ privacy and confidentiality.  Everyone who is included in this new rule must follow the stipulations for sharing and abide by HIPAA regulations to protect patient privacy and store electronic records securely.

3.     What You Can Do Before Choosing Your Treatment Center

Before choosing your treatment center, you can research them using buprenorphine-doctors.com and by visiting their website.  Look at their approach to confidentiality and even call them directly to ask about their privacy policies.  You want to make sure you are comfortable with how your addiction treatment center will handle your private information. 

You will also want to check if your treatment center is fully private or federally funded, as that can affect whether or not they are fully bound by Federal confidentiality laws and take a look at whether or not your state has any further regulations.

4.     What Your Addiction Treatment Center Should Provide You

When you complete your intake interview, you should receive a copy of your treatment facility’s confidentiality and privacy guidelines.  As mentioned earlier, you should be able to complete and sign an Authorization for Release of Information and know your rights as a patient of that particular facility.  In many cases, the facility employees also have to sign these confidentiality agreements.  Make sure you are well-informed about your confidentiality agreement and that you see and sign these forms as soon as you are accepted into the program.

You can also talk with your addiction treatment center about ways they can help you keep your recovery confidential, such as with flexible schedules that allow you to work during the day if you are in outpatient treatment, or even confidential pick-up points and parking if you need transportation to the facility.  See what your addiction treatment center can offer you in terms of privacy that gives you peace of mind about getting the addiction treatment you need.

5.     When Your Information Can be Disclosed

Of course, as with any rule, there are exceptions.  Even with HIPAA, there are extenuating circumstances which can permit the disclosure of patient records and information.  Here are the circumstances that may allow for limited disclosure of patient information:

  • If a patient commits a crime while at the treatment center or against the employees of the treatment center, then patient information can be given to the police.  This information is restricted to:
    • Name
    • Address
    • Last known location
    • Circumstances surrounding the incident
  • Addiction treatment programs will comply with state laws that require reporting on child abuse or neglect.  Programs can make an initial report, but follow-up requests for information are not given unless the patient confirms consent.
  • If there is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention, then identifying information will be shared with the authorized medical staff. There is a limit on this information, in that is must only include what is necessary for medical treatment.
  • If a patient is subpoenaed and signs consent releasing the information requested, then the program can share only that information with the court.  The court needs to issue an order that complies with federal regulations.

6.      Protections You are Provided at Work

You should become familiar with your rights and your company’s policies on drug and alcohol use, insurance, and medical leave.  There are also two major federal acts in place that you should know about that help protect your job and your ability to attend treatment while also working.

1.     The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prevents your employer from firing you because of your decision to attend rehab and protects you from discrimination when you are in addiction recovery.  If you or a loved one does face discrimination, you can file a lawsuit.  This act applies to all state and local government employers and private companies with over 14 employees.

2.     Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

If you qualify, FMLA can help you get the treatment you need while retaining your job by allowing employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a year due to stated family or medical reasons.  Your job remains protected, and your employer is required to also maintain confidentiality about your addiction and treatment.

Confidentiality Is Key To Freedom From Drug Addiction

Confidentiality should be an essential part of every addiction treatment program.  Take a moment to understand your rights before entering any addiction treatment program and ensure your privacy is fully respected – after all, you are protected under the law. Knowing your addiction treatment is confidential can help you take the first step towards improving your quality of life and overcoming addiction. 

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