New Rule Amends Federal Substance Use Disorder Confidentiality Regulations

On Jan. 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a final rule amending the federal substance use disorder confidentiality regulations—42 CFR Part 2, known as "Part 2"—that apply to federally-assisted programs. 

SAMHSA also issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) to seek comments on additional proposed changes to the final rule. Both the final rule and the SNPRM have been put on hold by the Trump administration until at least March 20, 2017.

Some of the changes contained in the final rule include:

  • Consent options—While patient consent is still required, the form of that consent has changed, including to whom information may be released. The consent form must now explicitly describe the substance use disorder-related information to be disclosed and with sufficient specificity to allow the disclosing program or other entity to comply with the request.

  • Security for records—The final rule creates more detailed requirements for protecting the security of records, including having established formal policies and procedures for the security of both paper and electronic records so that these requirements more closely align with those of the HIPAA Security Rule.

What's the Bottom Line for Pennsylvania Physicians?

Physicians and practices should keep in mind that Pennsylvania's rules for substance abuse and mental health disclosures are generally more stringent than the federal rules. Practitioners in Pennsylvania are required to follow the more stringent laws. 

The change in the federal rules serves as an important reminder for physician practices to review their own policies to make sure that they are in compliance with the applicable rules concerning substance abuse and mental health disclosures.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society's (PAMED's) "Confidentiality of Medical Records and Other Personal health Information" Quick Consult publication offers additional information, including details on special confidentiality requirements for mental health treatment, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and HIV-related information. Get the Quick Consult.

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