COVID-19: Your Health Status is Private Information, but There Are Some New Exceptions

Recently there was a story in the Kansas City Star about a homeowners association requesting information if their homeowners had been diagnosed with COVID-19. This obviously caused a huge backlash with owners who were given this notice. Some were concerned that this was a HIPAA violation (health care privacy) and others were just concerned for privacy in general.

The news story of out of Olathe has been updated with the homeowners association response and they have rescinded their request for COVID-19 positive tests. They alleged that it was meant in good faith and to comply with the statewide order to shut down.

But this is a reminder that there are laws in place that protect your medical privacy. No one should be asking if you have COVID-19 or not. At this point, all your health information is private and protected by the law.

All Your Health Information is Private, Including if You Have COVID-19, but There Are Some New Exceptions 

What you should know:

Your health information is totally private. People can’t ask you to divulge these kinds of health situations. It’s established by law in an act from the nineties called HIPAA. If you are asked about having COVID-19 and feel uncomfortable about it, decline to give them any information and consult an attorney. 

If you are asked about having COVID-19 and feel uncomfortable about it, decline to give any information and consult an attorney.

You should also know:

Some HIPAA privacy restrictions have been relaxed due to the declaration of an emergency for coronavirus. This basically means that some doctors will share data with the Center for Disease Control and other government bodies about their patients who have COVID-19. This allows CDC and state and local health departments quick access to data that will help them fight the virus. These researchers urgently need data so they can fight COVID-19 - so these laws have been relaxed on that end. But the sharing of information has to be done “in good faith”. 

Some of Your Medical Privacy Rights Have Been Relaxed

  • If you have COVID-19, doctors can share your information with the center for Disease Control.
  • It has to be done in good faith.
  • This is so doctors can have more data to help them fight the virus.

Telehealth and Privacy 

There's a huge push to provide more telehealth services for people during this nationwide health emergency. This means consulting a doctor virtually on Zoom or Skype for example. This allows doctors to see more patients among other benefits.  Because of this, the Department of Health and Human Services has relaxed some privacy guidelines for telehealth services

Another Medical Privacy Right That is Relaxed:

  • You can use some video chat applications that were not previously covered under HIPAA for virtual visits with your doctor.

This means that you and your doctor can use some teleconferencing services that are not encrypted, which was not the case before the COVID-19 emergency. The doctors are encouraged to notify patients that these third-party applications have potential risks and are also encouraged to enact all the encryption and privacy modes they can when using the applications. Still, your privacy is otherwise protected if you decide to consult a doctor on a virtual platform.

Third party applications that are recommended by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): 

  • Apple FaceTime;
  • Facebook Messenger;
  • Google Hangouts;
  • WhatsApp;
  • Zoom;
  • Skype;
  • Signal;
  • Jabber; and
  • iMessage.

Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, should not be used for virtual visits with your doctor.

Facebook has been involved with a number of privacy-related complaints and must disclose its health data use because of a settlement they made with the Federal Trade Commission. 

Because of this, Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and other similar public-facing video communication applications should not be used under the telehealth provision by covered providers.

More info:

Learn More About HIPAA and Your Medical Privacy Rights

I have a comprehensive interview with an expert on the topic, attorney Maureen Brady from the McShane Brady law firm. (   She discusses HIPAA and potential violations you should be aware of. This was recorded before the coronavirus and this national health emergency but there is some good information there to help you understand your rights.

Aimee Gromowsky

Aimee Gromowsky is formerly an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Jackson County and currently a private practice lawyer. Ms. Gromowsky handles thousands of cases in Kansas City, Missouri area courts and was honored with a “Best in Bar” award in 2007 and 2008 from the Kansas City Business Journal. As a Kansas City traffic lawyer, Aimee is determined to represent you in your case by providing exceptional legal counsel and service.