Patient privacy and confidentiality form a crucial component of the patient-provider relationship, particularly when seeking treatment for mental health or substance use disorders.

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Multiple federal privacy laws, in addition to state laws, provide privacy protections for mental health and substance use disorder treatment records, while also allowing treatment providers to share these records with other healthcare providers, patients’ families, and in certain other circumstances.

In the face of these overlapping laws, it can be difficult for patients, their families, and health professionals to understand: What information can be shared, with whom, and when?

Clear and accurate information about confidentiality is important to protect patient privacy and ensure that privacy laws are not incorrectly interpreted to prevent necessary disclosures of patient information. Individuals living with mental illness or substance use disorders may not seek care without guarantees of confidentiality and privacy protections.

A recent survey completed by SAMHSA found that concerns about privacy and confidentiality among individuals with behavioral health needs is a primary reason for not receiving treatment. At the same time, appropriate communication of patient records can promote better treatment outcomes and facilitate communication among the patient’s care team. Clarifying privacy protections and promoting communication of patient records is critical for improving patients’ access to care and quality of treatment.

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