Privacy, Please: Health Consent Laws for Minors in the Information Age

Helen R. Pfister and Susan R. Ingargiola, Manatt Health Solutions

Minors seeking mental or reproductive health services may wish to do so without their parents' knowledge. But with electronic health information exchange, confidentiality is tricky.

January 2013

In many states, minors can get abortions, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, or mental health services without their parents' knowledge or consent. In the era of electronic health information exchange (HIE), however, maintaining this confidentiality is a vexing challenge. Information about minors is subject to myriad laws that require health care providers to treat it differently than health information about adults.

Stakeholders are considering different ways to overcome the challenge of electronic exchange of minors' health information:

  • Data segmentation would allow health care providers to (1) separate sensitive health information, including information about services to which minors have consented on their own, from general health information and (2) withhold such information from exchange until they obtain any special consent required by law.
  • Separate health records created for those episodes of care to which minors consent on their own, and withholding those records from exchange as appropriate, would safeguard minors' health information.
  • Blanket consent or blanket exclusion — obtaining consent from both the parent and minor for all disclosures of minors' records, or simply excluding minors of a certain age — are more extreme approaches to enabling the electronic exchange of minors' health information.

This issue brief, accessible under Document Downloads, provides an overview of the laws governing disclosure of minors' health information and spotlights the challenges that these laws pose to comprehensive electronic health information exchange.