April 17, 2024

HIPAA Exemption for American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is charged with providing emergency communication services for military families and servicemen and women in the line of duty. With many emergency messages involving health issues (deaths, births, surgeries, etc.) we need to verify a patient’s condition, cause of illness/death and obtain a Doctor’s Information Statement” including condition, prognosis, life expectancy, and diagnosis. This information can be ontained from any medical personnel involved in the care of a patient (doctor, nurse, or office manager). This information is vital to the sending of an emergency message by the American Red Cross. In any case we are working on, the information we gather is strictly used for the purpose of sending an emergency communication and is kept confidential otherwise.

The Department of Health and Human Services created an exemption to the HIPAA regulations allowing doctors, or their representative, to share information about a patient with the American Red Cross for the purposes of providing emergency communications. This exemption is provided under 45 CFR 164.510(b)(1)(ii) and 45 CFR 164.510(b)(3). This information is also provided on answers.hhs.gov/

The exemption reads as follows:
The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits a covered doctor or hospital to disclose protected health information to a person or entity that will assist in notifying a patient’s family member of the patient’s location, general condition, or death. See 45 CFR 164.510(b)(1)(ii). The patient’s written authorization is not required to make disclosures to notify, identify, or locate the patient’s family members, his or her personal representatives, or other persons responsible for the patient’s care. Rather, where the patient is present, or is otherwise available prior to the disclosure, and has capacity to make health care decisions, the covered entity may discovlose protected health information for notification purposes if the patient agrees or, when given the opportunity, does not object. The covered entity may also make the disclosure if it can reasonably infer from the circumstances, based on professional judgement that the patient does not object. See 45 CFR 164.510(b)(2).

Even when the patient is not present or it is impracticable because of emergency or incapacity to ask the patient about notifying someone, a covered entity can still disclose a patient’s location, general condition, or death for notification purposes when, in exercising professional judgment, it determines that doing so would be in the best interest of the patient. See 45 CFR 164.510(b)(3).

Under these circumstances, for example, a doctor may share information about a patient’s condition with the American Red Cross for the Red Cross to provide emergency communications services for members of the US military, such as notifying service members of family illness or death, including verifying such illnesses for emergency leave requests.