Here's something you can reasonably expect to see covered on the social work licensing exam: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA for short. If you've worked in an agency, you've very likely encountered HIPAA rules, HIPAA trainings, and, perhaps, HIPAA headaches. On the exam, HIPAA may show up in an item about record sharing. A client requests access to psychotherapy notes, say. Or a client sues a social worker and requests access to psychotherapy notes. How do you answer? Know your HIPAA. Here are a couple of key sections from the CSWA's helpful HIPAA explanation page:
...include the right to receive a health care provider's Notice of Privacy Practices, and the opportunity to object or opt-out of certain types of communications... The Privacy Standards also provide individuals the right to access PHI, and the right to request amendments to PHI. One of the things HIPAA attempts to do is make it easier for individuals to access their PHI. As such, clients have the right to inspect and copy their PHI, in whole or in part, for as long as the covered entity maintains the information...
Psychotherapy Notes are a specific category in the HIPAA rule. Psychotherapy notes are what most clinicians call "process notes" or the actual verbal and non-verbal record of what takes place in the therapy session. The HIPAA description of psychotherapy notes is "raw data." Psychotherapy notes are specifically protected in the HIPAA rule and belong to the clinician. The general rule is that a clinician may not use or disclose psychotherapy notes for any purpose, including most treatment, payment and healthcare operations, unless the client's authorization is obtained. Specific exceptions where an authorization is not required include use by the originator of the notes for supervision and training purposes; and uses for defense in a legal action...
Additionally, psychotherapy are, according to HIPAA, supposed to remain separate from the rest of the client's records.
How should client information be stored? How long do you have to store records? HIPAA has answers for these questions as well. Knowing them should give you a leg up on the exam.
More HIPAA pages worth a look:
For exam questions about HIPAA and lots more, get started with SWTP by signing up!
[Post by Will Baum, LCSW]
July 8, 2015