NOTICE of PRIVACY PRACTICES
Policies and Practices to Protect the Privacy of Your Health Information when Receiving Psychological Services
I. THIS NOTICE DESCRIBES HOW PSYCHOLOGICAL AND MEDICAL INFORMATION ABOUT YOU MAY BE USED AND DISCLOSED, AND HOW YOU CAN GET ACCESS TO THIS INFORMATION. PLEASE REVIEW IT CAREFULLY.
II. IT IS OUR LEGAL DUTY TO SAFEGUARD YOUR PROTECTED HEALTH INFORMATION (PHI).
By law, we are required to ensure that your PHI is kept private. The PHI constitutes information created or noted by us that can be used to identify you. It contains data about your past, present, or future health or condition, the provision of health care services to you, or the payment for such health care. We are required to provide you with this Notice about our privacy procedures. This Notice must explain when, why, and how we would use and/or disclose your PHI. Use of PHI means when we share, apply, utilize, examine, or analyze information within our practice; PHI is disclosed when we release, transfer, give or otherwise reveal it to a third party outside our practice. With some exceptions, we may not use or disclose more of your PHI than is necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the use or disclosure is made; however, we are always legally required to follow the privacy practices described in this Notice.
Please note that we reserve the right to change the terms of this Notice and our privacy policies at any time as permitted by law. Any changes will apply to PHI already on file with us. Before we make any important changes to our policies, we will immediately change this Notice and post a new copy of it in the office and on our website (www.socalcounselingcenter.com). You may also request a copy of this Notice from us, or you can view a copy of it in our office or on our website.
III. HOW WE WILL USE AND DISCLOSE YOUR PHI.
We will use and disclose your PHI for many different reasons. Some of the uses or disclosures will require your prior written authorization; others, however, will not. Below you will find the different categories of our uses and disclosures, with some examples.
A. Uses and Disclosures Related to Treatment, Payment, or Health Care Operations Do Not Require Your Prior Written Consent.
We may use and disclose your PHI without your consent for the following reasons:
- For treatment. We can use your PHI within our practice to provide you with mental health treatment, including discussing or sharing your PHI with our trainees and interns. We may disclose your PHI to physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other licensed health care providers who provide you with health care services or are otherwise involved in your care. Example: If a psychiatrist is treating you, we may disclose your PHI to her/him in order to coordinate your care.
- For health care operations. We may disclose your PHI to facilitate the efficient and correct operation of our practice. Examples: Quality control – We might use your PHI in the evaluation of the quality of health care services that you have received or to evaluate the performance of the health care professionals who provided you with these services. We may also provide your PHI to our attorneys, accountants, consultants, and others to make sure that we are in compliance with applicable laws.
- To obtain payment for treatment. We may use and disclose your PHI to bill and collect payment for the treatment and services provided to you. Example: We might send your PHI to your insurance company or health plan in order to get payment for the health care services that were provided to you. We could also provide your PHI to business associates, such as billing companies, claims processing companies, and others that process health care claims for our office.
- Other disclosures. Examples: Your consent isn’t required if you need emergency treatment, provided that we attempt to get your consent after treatment is rendered. In the event that we try to get your consent but you are unable to communicate with us (for example, if you are unconscious or in severe pain) but we think that you would consent to such treatment if you could, we may disclose your PHI.
To help clarify these terms, here are some definitions:
- “PHI” refers to information in your health record that could identify you.
- “Use” applies only to activities within our office such as sharing, employing, applying, utilizing, examining, and analyzing information that identifies you.
- “Disclosure” applies to activities outside of our office, such as releasing, transferring, or providing access to information about you to other parties.
B. Certain Other Uses and Disclosures Do Not Require Your Consent.
We may use and/or disclose your PHI without your consent or authorization for the following reasons:
- When disclosure is required by federal, state, or local law; judicial, board, or administrative proceedings; or, law enforcement. Example: We may make a disclosure to the appropriate officials when a law requires us to report information to government agencies, law enforcement personnel, and/or in an administrative proceeding.
- If disclosure is compelled by a party to a proceeding before a court of an administrative agency pursuant to its lawful authority.
- If disclosure is required by a search warrant lawfully issued to a governmental law enforcement agency.
- To avoid harm. We may provide PHI to law enforcement personnel or persons able to prevent or mitigate a serious threat to the health or safety of a person or the public (i.e., adverse reaction to medications).
- If disclosure is compelled or permitted by the fact that you are in such mental or emotional condition as to be dangerous to yourself or the person or property of others, and if we determine that disclosure is necessary to prevent the threatened danger.
- If disclosure is mandated by California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA). For example, if we have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect.
- If we have reasonable cause to suspect the “criminal abuse” of an adult patient, we must report it to the police. Once a report is filed, we may be required to provide additional information.
- If disclosure is compelled or permitted by the fact that you tell us of a serious/imminent threat of physical violence by you against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims.
- For public health activities. Example: In the event of your death, if a disclosure is permitted or compelled, we may need to give the county coroner information about you.
- For health oversight activities. Example: We may be required to provide information to assist the government in the course of an investigation or inspection of a health care organization or provider.
- For specific government functions. Examples: We may disclose PHI of military personnel and veterans under certain circumstances. Also, we may disclose PHI in the interests of national security, such as protecting the President of the United States or assisting with intelligence operations.
- For research purposes. In certain circumstances, we may provide PHI in order to conduct medical research.
- For Workers’ Compensation purposes. We may provide PHI in order to comply with Workers’ Compensation laws.
- Appointment reminders and health-related benefits or services. Examples: We may use PHI to provide appointment reminders. We may use PHI to give you information about alternative treatment options, or other health care services or benefits we offer.
- If an arbitrator or arbitration panel compels disclosure, when arbitration is lawfully requested by either party, pursuant to subpoena duces tectum (e.g., a subpoena for mental health records) or any other provision authorizing disclosure in a proceeding before an arbitrator or arbitration panel.
- If disclosure is required or permitted to a health oversight agency for oversight activities authorized by law. Example: When compelled by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to investigate or assess our compliance with HIPAA regulations.
- If disclosure is otherwise specifically required by law.
C. Certain Uses and Disclosures Require You to Have the Opportunity to Object.
- Disclosures to family, friends, or others. We may provide your PHI to a family member, friend, or another individual whom you indicate is involved in your care or responsible for the payment for your health care unless you object in whole or in part. Retroactive consent may be obtained in emergency situations.
D. Other Uses and Disclosures Require Your Prior Written Authorization.
In any other situation not described in Sections IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC above, we will request your written authorization before using or disclosing any of your PHI. Even if you have signed an authorization to disclose your PHI, you may later revoke that authorization, in writing, to stop any future uses and disclosures (assuming that we haven’t taken any action subsequent to the original authorization) of your PHI by us.
IV. WHAT RIGHTS YOU HAVE REGARDING YOUR PHI
These are your rights with respect to your PHI:
A. The Right to See and Get Copies of Your PHI.
In general, you have the right to see your PHI that is in our possession, or to get copies of it; however, you must request it in writing. If we do not have your PHI, but we know who does, we will advise you how you can get it. You will receive a response from us within 30 days of our receiving your written request. Under certain circumstances, we may feel we must deny your request, but if we do, we will give you, in writing, the reasons for the denial. We will also explain your right to have the denial reviewed. If you ask for copies of your PHI, we will charge you not more than $25.00 for your copy. We may see fit to provide you with a summary or explanation of the PHI, but only if you agree to it, as well as to the cost, in advance.
B. The Right to Request Limits on Uses and Disclosures of Your PHI.
You have the right to ask that we limit how we use and disclose your PHI. While we will consider your request, we are not legally bound to agree. If we do agree to your request, we will put those limits in writing and abide by them except in emergency situations. You do not have the right to limit the uses and disclosures that we are legally required or permitted to make.
C. The Right to Choose How We Send Your PHI to You.
It is your right to ask that your PHI be sent to you at an alternate address (for example, sending information to your work address rather than your home address) or by an alternate method (for example, via email instead of by regular mail). We are obliged to agree to your request providing that we can give you the PHI, in the format you requested, without undue inconvenience. We may not require an explanation from you as to the basis of your request as a condition of providing communications on a confidential basis.
D.The Right to Get a List of the Disclosures We Have Made.
You are entitled to a list of disclosures of your PHI that we have made. The list will not include uses or disclosures to which you have already consented, i.e., those for treatment, payment, or health care operations, sent directly to you, or to your family; neither will the list include disclosures made for national security purposes, to corrections or law enforcement personnel, or disclosures made before January 1, 2021. After January 1, 2021, disclosure records will be held for six years.
We will respond to your request for an accounting of disclosures within 60 days of receiving your request. The list we give you will include disclosures made in the previous six years unless you indicate a shorter period. The list will include the date of the disclosure, to whom PHI was disclosed (including their address, if known), a description of the information disclosed, and the reason for the disclosure. We will provide the list to you at no cost, unless you make more than one request in the same year, in which case we will charge you a reasonable sum based on a set fee for each additional request.
E.The Right to Amend Your PHI.
If you believe that there is some error in your PHI or that important information has been omitted, it is your right to request that we correct the existing information or add the missing information. Your request and the reason for the request must be made in writing. You will receive a response within 60 days of my receipt of your request. We may deny your request, in writing, if we find that: the PHI is (a) correct and complete, (b) forbidden to be disclosed, (c) not part of our records, or (d) written by someone other than us. Our denial must be in writing and must state the reasons for the denial. It must also explain your right to file a written statement objecting to the denial. If you do not file a written objection, you still have the right to ask that your request and our denial be attached to any future disclosures of your PHI. If we approve your request, we will make the change(s) to your PHI. Additionally, we will tell you that the changes have been made, and we will advise all others who need to know about the change(s) to your PHI.
F.The Right to Get This Notice by Email.
You have the right to get this notice by email. You have the right to request a paper copy of it, as well.
V. HOW TO COMPLAIN ABOUT OUR PRIVACY PRACTICES
If in your opinion, we may have violated your privacy rights, or if you object to a decision we made about access to your PHI, you are entitled to file a complaint with the person listed in Section VI below. You may also send a written complaint to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services at 200 Independence Avenue S.W. Washington, D.C. 20201. If you file a complaint about our privacy practices, we will take no retaliatory action against you.
VI. PERSON TO CONTACT FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THIS NOTICE OR TO COMPLAIN ABOUT MY PRIVACY PRACTICES
If you have any questions about this notice or any complaints about our privacy practices or would like to know how to file a complaint with the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, please contact our Privacy Officer, Stephanie Knutson at 949.239.7582
VII. NOTIFICATIONS OF BREACHES
In the case of a breach, SoCal Counseling Center is required to notify each affected individual whose unsecured PHI has been compromised. Even if such a breach was caused by a business associate, we are ultimately responsible for providing the notification directly or via the business associate. If the breach involves more than 500 persons, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) must be notified in accordance with instructions posted on its website. SoCal Counseling Center bears the ultimate burden of proof to demonstrate that all notifications were given or that the impermissible use or disclosure of PHI did not constitute a breach and must maintain supporting documentation, including documentation pertaining to the risk assessment.
VIII. PHI AFTER DEATH
Generally, PHI excludes any health information of a person who has been deceased for more than 50 years after the date of death. SoCal Counseling Center may disclose deceased individuals’ PHI to non-family members, as well as family members, who were involved in the care or payment for healthcare of the decedent prior to death; however, the disclosure must be limited to PHI relevant to such care or payment and cannot be inconsistent with any prior expressed preference of the deceased individual.
IX. INDIVIDUALS’ RIGHT TO RESTRICT DISCLOSURES; RIGHT OF ACCESS
SoCal Counseling Center is required to restrict the disclosure of PHI about you, the patient, to a health plan, upon request, if the disclosure is for the purpose of carrying out payment or health care operations and is not otherwise required by law. The PHI must pertain solely to a healthcare item or service for which you have paid the covered entity in full. (OCR clarifies that the adopted provisions do not require that covered healthcare providers create separate medical records or otherwise segregate PHI subject to a restricted healthcare item or service; rather, providers need to employ a method to flag or note restrictions of PHI to ensure that such PHI is not inadvertently sent or made accessible to a health plan.)
The 2013 Amendments also adopt the proposal in the interim rule requiring SoCal Counseling Center to provide a copy of PHI to any individual patient requesting it in electronic form. The electronic format must be provided to you if it is readily producible. OCR clarifies that SoCal Counseling Center must provide you only with an electronic copy of your PHI, not direct access to their electronic health record systems. The 2013 Amendments also give you the right to direct SoCal Counseling Center to transmit an electronic copy of PHI to an entity or person designated by you. Furthermore, the amendments restrict the fees that SoCal Counseling Center may charge you for handling and reproduction of PHI, which must be reasonable, cost-based, and identify separately the labor for copying PHI (if any). Finally, the 2013 Amendments modify the timeliness requirement for the right of access, from up to 90 days currently permitted to 30 days, with a one-time extension of 30 additional days.
X. NOTICE OF PRIVACY PRACTICES
SoCal Counseling Center’s Notice of Privacy Practices must contain a statement indicating that most uses and disclosures of psychotherapy notes, marketing disclosures, and sale of PHI do require prior authorization by you, and you have the right to be notified in case of a breach of unsecured PHI.
XI. EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS NOTICE
This notice went into effect on January 1, 2021.