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Can a health provider (physical or mental) contact my family to ask them questions about me without my consent? Can they do it if they don't disclose their reasoning or any medical information and just start asking them questions?

For example, contacting your family and asking them if they have noticed certain symptoms you may have.

  • What jurisdiction is this in? the answer details will vary. For example, in the US the requirements of HIPPA will be important here. – David Siegel Oct 17 '18 at 19:25
  • @DavidSiegel This is in the US. – Programmer Oct 17 '18 at 19:26
  • Is the health provider yours, or your relatives? My doctor routinely asks questions about my relatives, specifically my father, mother, siblings, and children. This helps them get a better picture of my potential health issues, but they usually do not ask for personally identifying information such as name. – Ron Beyer Oct 17 '18 at 21:28
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    @Ron Beyer: Does your health provider ask questions of you about your relatives (e.g. what did your father die of?) or ask questions directly of your relatives? I have only seen the former. – David Siegel Oct 17 '18 at 22:42
  • @DavidSiegel Yes, the former, the only time I've been asked direct questions about a relatives health (my mothers doctor asking me) is when she was unable to answer for herself, but they couldn't discuss her condition without her (or her spouses) consent. – Ron Beyer Oct 17 '18 at 22:52
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I'm an emergency medical technician in Vermont. In an emergency, information may be shared with anyone likely to be able to help. For example, I knock on a door and ask

"Did you call for an ambulance?"

"No."

"Is this 178 Lake drive?"

"No, this is 182."

"Do you know where 178 is?"

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Questions by a health provider are very likely to reveal some health-related information about you. The mere fact that you have consulted a particular provider is generally considered protected health information (PHI). The nature of the question is likely to reveal additional info, unless perhaps it is asking only for demographic info such as your age, or contact info for you. Just what info would be revealed depends on the specific question or questions asked, but under HIPPA information may be considered to be "revealed" by implication, even if it is not explicitly stated. If someone hearing all of the question(s) asked could plausibly conclude something about your health, such as your diagnosis or symptoms, that such a person would not have known otherwise, then it has been revealed.

In general a provider may not reveal PHI without the consent of the patient. A parent or guardian may give consent for an underage child. The holder of a PoA or healthcare proxy may give consent if the document authorizes this. A guardian may consent for someone who is legally incompetent.

There are specific circumstances under which info may be revealed without consent. For example, it may be given to a billing service so that you can be billed. Info may be given to affiliated providers who are being consulted on your case. (for these you must be informed of the possibility in advance, usually when first seeing the provider.) It may be given to an insurance company so that a claim may be filed and paid. If there is reason to believe that you are a danger to yourself or others, info may be given to emergency services as needed. Edit: It may be shared for any reasonable purpose in the event of an emergency, and there are other exceptions.

And of course if you signed a consent form in advance, info may be given in accord with that form.

Edit: None of the obvious exceptions seem to apply here, but without specifics one cannot be sure.

The potential penalties for violating HIPPA restrictions are quite sizable, although there is a great deal of discretion in what penalties will actually be imposed, if any.

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