HHS revises substance abuse patient records confidentiality rule: 5 things to know

HHS on July 13 announced several updates to its privacy regulation for patients' substance abuse treatment records.

Five things to know:

1.  The updated rule from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration aims to improve care coordination and limit provider burden while supporting privacy safeguards for patients.

2. The rule, named the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulation, or 42 CFR Part 2, continues to prevent law enforcement's use of SUD patient records in criminal prosecutions against patients without a court order.

3. The update also upholds restriction of the disclosure of SUD treatment records without patient consent, other than as statutorily authorized in the context of a medical emergency or for the purpose of scientific research, audit or program evaluation.

4. Under the new rule, a federally assisted substance use disorder program may only disclose patient identifying information with the individual's written consent or as part of a court order, among a few more limited exceptions.

5. The update will allow providers, with patients' consent, to more easily conduct activities such as quality improvement, claims management, patient safety and training.

"This reform will help make it easier for Americans to discuss substance use disorders with their doctors, seek treatment, and find the road to recovery," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the news release. "…Thanks to the valuable input of stakeholders, our final rule will make it easier for Americans to seek and receive treatment while lifting burdens on providers and maintaining important privacy protections."

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