The “Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information” otherwise known as the “Privacy Rule” was issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2002 based on the requirement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 to protect health information. This new rule contains clauses for the protection of minors, who may or may not opt to disclose their health information to their parents or personal representative.
According to English and Ford (2012), concerns about privacy can prevent adolescent from seeking healthcare. In a national survey conducted by Ford, Bearman and Moody (as cited by English and Ford, 2012), about 8.3% of middle and high school students have foregone necessary healthcare because they did not want their parents to know. The impact of privacy concerns is especially important for adolescents who have sensitive health issues such as going through STD treatments and using prescription contraceptives (for single, sexually active individuals). Most of them expressed that they would stop using contraceptives or discontinue their STD treatments once parental notification is involved.
Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a minor can exercise rights as an “individual” under the rule if he/she is in one of the following circumstances: 1) when the minor has consented to the treatment of an STD under a state minor consent law; 2) when the minor may legally receive care without parental consent such as court approval for abortion; and 3) when the parent has agreed to the confidentiality between the health care provider and the minor. In any of these, the parent is not the personal representative of the minor and may not have access to the minor’s healthcare information.
In my opinion, the HIPAA Privacy Rule is a good move to address the healthcare issues of adolescents and minors. With the changing times, majority of Americans become sexually active even before the age of 18. If their healthcare issues are not addressed and foregone due to mandatory parental involvement, this may eventually lead to the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, unsafe abortion, depression, or even death.
With the advent of technology, teenagers or minors have more access to information in different media forms such as the internet, television, newspapers and radio. With this information readily available to the public, minors can well decide for themselves if they want to undergo treatment on their own. In fact, I guess these are one of the things that adolescents should go through in life in order to learn and be independent.
However, I also do not discount the fact that we need societal change in order to diminish or eliminate the fear of children that “their parents would know what they are going through”. If we closely look at this, we can see that there is something wrong with America’s family values and the society that nurtures it. Ideally, the parents must be the one supporting their children in troubled times. However, such will not be the case if the children have lost confidence in their parents for fear of being reprimanded or even being physically abused. I believe that counseling is also very important and parents must be equipped psychologically to handle their children’s issues. Until then, we can only hope that adolescents and minors can look after themselves and hope that they make the right decisions and read the right information. Healthcare providers should know these rules and pay extra attention to minors that need healthcare.
English, Abegail and Carol Ford. “The HIPAA Privacy Rule and Adolescents: Legal Questions and Clinical Challenges”. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Guttmacher Institute, Mar. 2004. Web. 15 August 2012.