The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act allows a hospital to disclose relevant health information to family members if the patient expressly agrees to the disclosure or if it believes that the patient will not object. This includes things such as treatment options, medication schedules, health status and payment options.
HIPAA allows hospital personnel to discuss a patient's health status with family members in the patient's presence. For example, if a woman brings her husband to an appointment with her physician, HIPAA allows the doctor to reveal information about her diagnosis and treatment options while both she and her husband are in the room.
The law also allows hospital personnel to discuss relevant information with friends or family members in the patient's absence if consent is implied. For instance, hospital staff can discuss discharge instructions or payment options with a family member who is taking the patient home from the hospital, even if the patient isn't present at the time.
Additionally, the law allows hospital personnel to use their professional judgement in deciding to discuss relevant health issues with a family member when the patient is incapacitated. For example, a doctor may tell a woman who accompanied her husband to the emergency department that the patient has had a heart attack and give her periodic updates about his condition over the phone. Further, at its discretion, the hospital may allow family members to pick up prescriptions, medical supplies, X-rays and other types of medical information on the patient's behalf.