How do HIPAA-covered entities handle minor patient information?

by | Aug 7, 2023 | HIPAA News and Advice

HIPAA-covered entities handle minor patient information by following the same privacy and security standards mandated by HIPAA, ensuring that the minor’s PHI is appropriately safeguarded, limiting its access to authorized personnel only, obtaining parental or guardian consent where necessary, and implementing necessary administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to prevent unauthorized disclosure while allowing for necessary disclosures for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations purposes. HIPAA’s comprehensive regulations apply not only to adult patients but also extend to minors, acknowledging the need for stringent safeguards surrounding minor patient information.

Covered TopicsDetails and Description
HIPAA FrameworkRegulations extend to minors’ PHI, necessitating robust privacy and security measures.
Safeguarding PHIAdministrative, technical, and physical safeguards prevent unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of minor patient info.
Parental or Guardian ConsentParental or guardian consent is required for disclosing or using minor patient PHI due to minors’ lack of legal capacity.
Minimum Necessary PrincipleCovered entities share only the minimum required PHI to enhance protection and privacy for minors.
Treatment, Payment, and Healthcare OperationsTPO exceptions permit disclosure without consent for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations while prioritizing minimum necessary use.
Balancing Parental Access and Minor PrivacyCovered entities use professional judgment to balance parental rights and minor patient privacy.
Educational Institutions and FERPAEducational institutions handling minor health records follow FERPA regulations, which share some parallels with HIPAA.
Research ComplianceResearch involving minors adheres to HIPAA regulations, necessitating proper consent, data security, and adherence to minimum necessary principles.
Hybrid EntitiesInstitutions functioning as both educational and healthcare entities comply with both HIPAA and FERPA as relevant.
Emergencies and Parental AbsenceHealthcare providers exercise discretion to provide care without parental consent in emergencies or parental absence.
Professional JudgmentHealthcare providers use professional judgment for limited parental access to protect the minor’s best interests.
Documentation and Audit TrailsThorough documentation and audit trails of minor patient information disclosures and access ensure accountability and compliance.
Educational EffortsOngoing workforce training on handling minor patient information maintains a culture of compliance.
Privacy OfficersDesignated privacy officers manage HIPAA compliance, including handling minor patient information within covered entities.
Individual RightsMinors, upon reaching a certain age, gain the right to control their own PHI, even if parents or guardians provided consent.
Long-Term RecordsMinor patient records are retained according to HIPAA requirements, ensuring privacy even beyond the minor years.
Technology and SecurityAdvanced technological solutions and security measures prevent breaches and unauthorized access to minor patient information.
Notification of BreachesCovered entities must notify affected individuals and authorities of breaches compromising minor patient information.
Enforcement and PenaltiesNon-compliance with HIPAA regulations regarding minor patient information results in significant penalties.
Table: How HIPAA-Covered Entities Handle Minor Patient Information

HIPAA’s primary objective is to protect the privacy and security of patients’ protected health information (PHI) while facilitating the necessary flow of information for quality healthcare delivery. PHI encompasses a wide array of health-related data, including medical history, diagnoses, treatments, and payment details. For minors, PHI is equally sensitive, necessitating diligent compliance with HIPAA guidelines. HIPAA mandates that covered entities, which include healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses, institute comprehensive measures to safeguard minor patient information. This entails implementing administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to prevent unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of PHI. Strict access controls, authentication mechanisms, and encryption protocols form the backbone of technical safeguards. Administrative safeguards involve designating a privacy officer, conducting regular risk assessments, and delivering ongoing workforce training to foster a culture of compliance.

When handling minor patient information under HIPAA, it is necessary to obtain parental or guardian consent. As minors are often unable to provide valid consent due to their age, legal guardians assume the responsibility of granting consent for the disclosure and use of the minor’s PHI. This requirement ensures that sensitive medical information is shared only with individuals who have the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the minor. Underlying all HIPAA disclosures, including those involving minor patient information, is the principle of minimum necessary use and disclosure. This stipulates that covered entities should limit the amount of PHI disclosed to the minimum required for a particular purpose. In the context of minors, this principle serves as an additional layer of protection, preventing the unnecessary exposure of sensitive information.

HIPAA provides exceptions to the general rule of obtaining parental or guardian consent when it comes to the sharing of minor patient information. The Treatment, Payment, and Healthcare Operations (TPO) exception allows covered entities to disclose PHI without consent for the purposes of treatment, payment, and healthcare operations. This means that healthcare providers can share relevant information with other providers involved in the minor’s care, facilitate insurance claims, and engage in essential administrative activities without explicit consent. However, the principle of minimum necessary use still applies, ensuring that only pertinent information is exchanged. HIPAA upholds the rights of parents and legal guardians to access their minor child’s medical information while preserving the child’s privacy. Covered entities must strike a delicate balance between facilitating parental access and safeguarding the minor’s confidential information. In situations where a minor has consented to care without parental involvement, or if such involvement could lead to harm, HIPAA allows healthcare providers to exercise professional judgment in limiting parental access.

Educational institutions often find themselves in possession of student health records that contain minor patient information. While these institutions are not directly subject to HIPAA, they are subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA similarly enforces strict privacy standards for student records and mandates parental consent for the release of certain information. However, when educational institutions also function as HIPAA-covered entities, such as university hospitals, they must navigate both sets of regulations to ensure comprehensive compliance. Research endeavors involving minor participants must also adhere to HIPAA regulations. This requires obtaining appropriate consent from parents or legal guardians, implementing data security measures, and adhering to the minimum necessary principle. Researchers must balance the pursuit of scientific knowledge with the ethical imperative of protecting minors’ rights and privacy.


The handling of minor patient information within the framework of HIPAA demands an approach that harmonizes patient care, privacy, and legal requirements. Healthcare professionals with a high level of education must navigate the complex terrain of parental consent, the minimum necessary principle, and the exceptions afforded by TPO. The delicate balance between parental access and minor confidentiality underscores the ethical underpinnings of HIPAA. As the healthcare landscape evolves, the principles enshrined in HIPAA continue to guide healthcare providers, ensuring that the rights and privacy of minor patients remain sacrosanct in an increasingly interconnected world.

3 Steps To HIPAA Compliance

Step 1 : Download Checklist.

Step 2 : Review Your Business

Step 3 : Get Compliant!

Our HIPAA compliance checklist will outline everything your organization needs to become fully HIPAA compliant. Fill in the form below to download it now.

View our privacy policy