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Complications arise in these collaborations, the researchers write, because school nurses operate under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), while health departments may operate under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Both laws are meant to protect patient privacy, but in different ways, leaving unintentional gaps. For example, FERPA allows parents to see medical information in the school record, and allows school nurses to disclose medical information to other school administrators in some cases. When private medical information from, for example, a local health department's in-school STI testing and treatment program operating under HIPAA is passed on to a school nurse operating under FERPA, that information becomes less private than a student--and perhaps even the health department program--may realize.
To help close the gap, Elliott and colleagues write that collaborations between schools and local health departments should include mapping out processes and workflow to find and anticipate these gaps, and that collaborators should create clear privacy protocols for all partners and tell students in plain language what privacy protections they can expect.
"Schools have become important sites for many health interventions, but, if we are not careful, what is good for a student's health may not be good for their privacy," Elliott says. Source:
Boston University School of Medicine Journal reference:
Elliott, P.A., et al. (2020) Navigating Privacy Laws to Deliver STI Health Services in High Schools. Journal of Pediatrics . doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-0712 .
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