Patient privacy is a sacred issue in the medical community, and nowhere is this discretion more important than in the area of substance use and abuse. Thanks to strict legislation, providers, coders, front desk staff, and any other healthcare professional who comes into contact with your drug history is forbidden from sharing it with others. In theory, this is a crucial part of maintaining trust between the practice and its patients. In reality, however, there are several detrimental consequences, such as the difficulty in sharing a patient’s substance use disorder history even with the patient’s other doctors.

While this may not seem like a big deal at first glance, it can lead to unintended consequences and complications. For example, if practices aren’t able to share this sensitive information, then a patient with a substance use disorder could go to a new practice and be prescribed opioids, all because the new practice had no way of knowing about the patient’s condition. With opioid abuse statistics climbing year after year, this scenario would only exacerbate a growing problem.

Currently, substance use disorder history and other sensitive drug information is protected by 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2, but lawmakers are fighting to reform these rules to better fall in line with HIPAA. While this change would still keep patient drug information protected from the public (including friends and family), it would make it possible for practices to share the info amongst themselves. While the bill to make these changes is only in its infancy, the healthcare industry could very well see this major change within the next few years.

As this bill continues to develop, be sure to keep a watchful eye on how the official laws change. If the rules update successfully, you may just be able to share a vital piece of a patient’s medical record and save a life.