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Will My Stay in Rehab Really be Confidential?

Will My Stay in Rehab Really be Confidential?

Health care providers and others who see you in rehab are required by law to keep the information confidential

If you are thinking about going to a rehabilitation facility because of an addiction, you may not want anyone else to know. You may be worried that your coworkers, family or friends in San Diego will find out. Although you may choose to tell everyone, which is one way to handle it, it is perfectly normal to not want others to know about this step you are taking. An obstacle to seeking help for many people is that they don’t want people to know, but there are ways to keep your business your own business—some protected by federal law.

Your Confidentiality Is Protected by Law

There are certain legal safeguards in place to ensure confidentiality so that it will be up to you to tell whomever you choose—or not to tell. These safeguards include federal laws. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the Privacy Rule to implement the requirement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This prevents health care professionals from sharing your information with anyone you have not designated.

The Privacy Rule gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information. The Privacy Rule applies to all forms of individuals’ protected health information, whether electronic, written or oral. The Security Rule is a federal law that requires security for health information in electronic form.[1] A major goal of the Privacy Rule, according to HHS, is to “assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well being.”[2]

If you talk to your doctor or other medical professional, such as those associated with a drug or alcohol treatment facility, privacy laws prevent them from sharing your medical information with anyone outside of the health care system without your permission.[3]  Health care providers who specialize in addiction treatment can’t share your information with anyone (even other providers) without your written permission.

When Someone Might Tell

In certain cases, according to HHS, when health professionals believe you might be a danger to yourself or to others, the provider may be able to share relevant information with family members. The HIPAA Privacy Rule does allow a covered entity, such as a health care professional, to disclose certain information when he or she has a good faith belief that the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others and is reasonably able to prevent or lessen the threat. This may include, depending on the circumstances, disclosure to law enforcement, family members, the target of the threat or others in San Diego who the professional has a good faith belief can mitigate the threat.[4]

Aside from HIPAA and its safeguards, keep in mind that there is no legal prevention to a family member telling others that you are at a rehab clinic. If you feel strongly that you don’t want others to know, make those wishes clear to your family members who do know and hope they respect that.

Who Has to Follow These Laws?

Who must comply with HIPAA?

  • Health plans, including health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans and certain government programs that pay for health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid must all comply.
  • Most health care providers—those that conduct certain business electronically, such as electronically billing your health insurance—including most doctors, clinics, hospitals, psychologists, chiropractors, nursing homes, pharmacies and dentists also must comply.
  • Health care clearinghouses, or entities that process nonstandard health information they receive from another entity into a standard (i.e., standard electronic format or data content), or vice versa, must comply.
    • Business associates of covered entities must follow parts of the HIPAA regulations.[5]

According to HHS, the Privacy Rule does not require a health care provider or health plan to share information with your family or friends, unless they are your  personal representatives. However, the provider or plan can share your information with family or friends if:

  • They are involved in your health care or payment for your health care,
  • You tell the provider or plan that it can do so,
  • You do not object to sharing of the information, or
  • If, using its professional judgment, a provider or plan believes that you do not object.[6]

What Else Can Be Done?

In addition to the federal laws, there are things you and your family can do to increase the chances that your rehab stay will remain confidential including the following

  • If you are going to go to an inpatient facility, choose one that is not close to your home.
  • Deal with the addiction early before it is so obvious to others.
  • Check to make sure the facility you choose does not allow cameras.
  • Be selective of who you confide in.

Treatment Can Be Confidential

It is a big decision to enter a rehab facility, and it should be up to you who knows about it and who doesn’t know about it. With the help of federal laws, common sense and compassion from your family, it is possible to keep your treatment confidential in San Diego. If you would like more information about how that works and how important confidentiality is to us, call our admissions coordinators. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at our toll-free helpline.


[1] Your Rights Under HIPAA, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html

[2] Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/laws-regulations/index.html

[3] “What to Do if You Have a Problem with Drugs,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, revised January 2016, www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/treatment/what-to-do-if-you-have-problem-drugs-adults

[4] Health Information Privacy, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq/520/does-hipaa-permit-a-health-care-provider-to-disclose-information-if-the-patient-is-a-danger/index.html

[5] Your Rights Under HIPAA, supra note 1.

[6] Your Rights Under HIPAA, supra note 1.