Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An interactive map examining laws that govern the release and use of communicable disease-related patient information is now available on LawAtlas.org, the Public Health Law Research (PHLR) website dedicated to legal and policy surveillance. The newly released map examines laws across all 50 states and the District of Columbia and clarifies the varied national landscape of laws that govern how personal information for individuals with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or tuberculosis may be shared by and among health departments.

State laws designed to protect patient privacy can sometimes make it challenging for health departments to provide comprehensive services and collaborative care. In many cases, individuals who may have one communicable disease, like HIV or viral hepatitis, may also have another because of similar risk factors for each disease, including injection drug use or unprotected sex, incarceration, lack of education or living in an area with high rates of poverty or crime. Because of the likelihood that people may have more than one of these diseases, communication and collaboration between service providers and health departments become essential.

This interactive map outlines state reporting requirements and the nature of the state laws that govern whether or not health departments may use or release an individual's personally identifiable information and specifically consider laws related to HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, STDs, and tuberculosis.

All states and the District of Columbia have laws that generally protect the confidentiality of personally identifiable information, and 24 states have laws that allow health departments to release information for purposes related to disease prevention and control.

Many of the state laws are disease-specific, for example, 42 states have laws specifying how the health department may use patient information when that patient has HIV/AIDS. Thirty-five of those states allow public health departments to use HIV/AIDS-specific information to notify partners or trace the contact a person may have had, which can prevent further spread of the disease.

The map also includes information on the level of government that health departments must report to, and whether or not there are specific departments or groups within those government offices that should receive the information.

To date, 27 states have laws that require diseases to be reported to both a state health department as well as a local department (regional, district, municipal, county, etc.). Ten states' laws mandate that reports go directly to the state health department, while four states require reporting only at the local level.

The data used to power this map was compiled by the Public Health Management Corporation using the PHLR LawAtlas system. The project received support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.