Some professionals have hesitated to report potential cases of trafficking due to fears of violating the rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. HIPAA was written to protect individual confidentiality but was never designed to prevent the reporting of trauma and crimes. The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits the reporting of injury or abuse if certain conditions are met, including disclosure by covered entities. Further, even where a specific permission to report injury or abuse does not apply, if an adult authorizes a particular disclosure of information, HIPAA requires only that the disclosure be limited to the terms of the authorization. Human trafficking can be reported without divulging individually identifiable information. For example, you could report the gender and age of the individual and type of trafficking but not the date of servcie.
In addition to HIPAA considerations, you should also take into account your responsibility as a mandated reporter and obligations to protect individual privacy. Those working with Native communities also need to be aware of tribal, state, and/or federal reporting requirements.
Know Before You Ask
Ensure you understand any legal and organizational requirements related to:
- Federal and state mandatory reporting requirements
- What to do if a child begs you not to call police
- What to do if a child threatens to leave the facility
- What to do if an adult is badly injured but does not want to call authorities
When offering assistance to patients/clients concerned about reporting, remember to do the following:
- Offer both the child and adult referrals, hotline numbers, and materials.
- Ensure that providing written materials will not jeopardize safety.
- Inform the individual that your organization can offer services, if they choose to return.
- Schedule a followup visit, when possible.
- Follow organizational procedures related to documenting injuries and treatments and be mindful that such information can be used in court proceedings.
- Futures Without Violence's Compendium of State Statutes and Policies on Domestic Violence and Health Care includes state-specific requirements.
- VictimLaw's searchable database of victims' rights legal provisions includes federal, state, and territorial statutes; tribal laws; state constitutional amendments; court rules; administrative code provisions; and summaries of related court decisions and attorney general opinions.
- Human Trafficking and HIPAA: What the Health Care Professional Needs to Know
- Department of Health and Human Services: HIPAA for Professionals
- Polaris Policy & Legislation
Check out our additional resources.