Information Is Powerful Medicine: Understanding Your HIPAA Rights

Know you rights- You have the right to see or to access your medical records. HIPAA Privacy Rule.In December 2013, the Departments of  Health and Human ServicesLabor and Treasury jointly issued mental health and substance abuse parity rules that, along with the Affordable Care Act, expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and other protections to 62 million Americans.

This rulemaking is the largest expansion of behavioral health coverage in a generation and will help make treatment more affordable and accessible.

For the millions of Americans seeking treatment and recovery services, it is important to know that you have a right to your health information – and whether your health information is stored on paper or electronically, you’ve got the right to keep it private.

Those rights are protected by a law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

HIPAA gives you the right to get your personal health information, make sure it’s correct and know who has seen it.  With access to your own medical records, you can:

  • Make decisions with your health care provider;
  • Track your medications and dosages;
  • Manage your progress; and
  • Do everything you can to be healthy.


You’ve got the right to see, or to access, your medical records. Sometimes you might not be able to see the full record, but you’ve always got the right to ask.

For instance, HIPAA does not give you the right to access a provider’s psychotherapy notes and they can’t be shared with others without your permission.

Psychotherapy notes are notes taken by a mental health professional during a conversation with the patient and kept separate from the patient’s medical and billing records.


Check to make sure your medical information is correct and complete.

If you think something is wrong, or missing, you can ask your health care provider to fix it. Your health care provider might not agree, but you always have the right to ask, and to have your disagreement added to your medical record.


Having access to your medical record can mean better communication between you and your health care providers, less paperwork and greater control over your health.

Your health care provider can be a great support system for talking about mental health. They will help you make the right decisions and assist you in taking action that will help.


You also have the right to know how your health information is used and shared. Your health care provider is allowed to share your information for certain reasons, such as determining how to best treat your mental health problem.

But your doctors can’t give your information to an employer, for example, without your permission. If you’d like to know how your health information has been shared, you have the right to get a report. That’s called an accounting of disclosures.


Under HIPAA you can request to share your health information with someone, like your spouse, domestic partner, a parent, a sister or brother or a friend.

Your health care provider may share relevant information if you give your provider or health plan permission, you are present and do not object, or if you are not present, and the provider determines based on professional judgment that it’s in your best interest.


HIPAA gives you the right to ask your health care provider not to share your information with your health plan if you pay for an item or service out of pocket.


HIPAA gives you the right to say which phone number, fax or email your providers should use and how they can leave a message.


All these rights are spelled out in the Understanding the HIPAA Notice, which is given to you by your health care provider.

If you haven’t seen the Notice, be sure to ask for a copy and read it carefully. It lets you know exactly how your rights are being protected.

Read more helpful information and resources on HIPAA.