Confidentiality: FERPA and HIPAA

Parents often ask: “How can I receive medical information about my student? How will I know if my student is ill and how do I find out what is going on with their health care?”

These are good but difficult questions. The WOU Student Health & Counseling Center (SHCC) is bound by Oregon state law. Many parents may recognize two federal laws: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

FERPA protects a student’s privacy regarding educational records; however, a student’s medical record if seen at the Student Health & Counseling Center is not considered an educational record. HIPPA covers medical records unless they are generated at a college or university. Consequently, medical records created at SHCC do not fall under either FERPA or HIPAA and must follow Oregon state law.

Release of Medical Information

Under Oregon state law, release of medical records at Western Oregon University is restricted by Oregon Revised Statutes H.B. 2305. This law specifically states that a valid authorization “must describe the information to be used or disclosed and that identifies the information in a specific and meaningful way.”

Blanket authorizations to release “any and all identifiable information” and “prospective authorizations to release medical information” do not allow the patient to make an informed decision about releasing specific medical information and are not allowed under law.

What this means for parents and students is that students cannot sign a medical release form that allows SHCC staff to talk to parents about their medical care over a prolonged or indefinite period of time. Some areas of campus are allowed to do this; however SHCC must comply with state regulations regarding the release of medical information.

Students can sign a release allowing SHCC staff to discuss specific medical issues. A student can also list a parent as an emergency contact on their electronic health information form. If the student seeks care at SHCC and there is an emergency situation present, staff can and will notify the person listed as an emergency contact. If the parent is not listed as the emergency contact, they will not be called. However, if the student seeks care at the emergency room or with another medical provider, emergency contact notification must be done by that facility.

SHCC encourages students to be in direct contact with their parents about their health situation. A student may also call a parent directly from the clinician’s office, allowing the parent to speak with the clinician directly at the time of the appointment.