If the patient is not present or is incapacitated, may a health care provider still share the patient’s health information with family, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care or payment for care?

Yes.  If the patient is not present or is incapacitated, a health care provider may share the patient’s information with family, friends, or others as long as the health care provider determines, based on professional judgment, that it is in the best interest of the patient.  When someone other than a friend or family member is involved, the health care provider must be reasonably sure that the patient asked the person to be involved in his or her care or payment for care.  The health care provider may discuss only the information that the person involved needs to know about the patient’s care or payment.

Here are some examples:

  • A surgeon who did emergency surgery on a patient may tell the patient’s spouse about the patient’s condition while the patient is unconscious.
  • A pharmacist may give a prescription to a patient’s friend who the patient has sent to pick up the prescription.
  •  A hospital may discuss a patient’s bill with her adult son who calls the hospital with questions about charges to his mother’s account.
  • A health care provider may give information regarding a patient’s drug dosage to the patient’s health aide who calls the provider with questions about the particular prescription.


  • A nurse may not tell a patient’s friend about a past medical problem that is unrelated to the patient’s current condition.
  • A health care provider is not required by HIPAA to share a patient’s information when the patient is not present or is incapacitated, and can choose to wait until the patient has an opportunity to agree to the disclosure.


Created 9/16/08

Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on July 26, 2013