New Law Note Addresses Client Confidentiality

Jan 23, 2012

NASW News exclusive:

By Paul R. Pace, News Staff

As the age of communication possibilities continues to expand, maintaining client confidentiality for social workers is a paramount concern.

Protection of clients’ confidential information is not only a social work cornerstone, it is also a legal obligation, according to the latest NASW General Counsel Law Note, Client Confidentiality and Privileged Communications, recently published by NASW Press and written by NASW Legal Defense Fund authors. The series provides social workers with information about legal topics of concern to the social work profession.

The latest law note addresses the realization that society is experiencing a paradigm shift in electronic communication options that affects expectations about privacy. However, “the fundamental need for confidentiality remains as a lynchpin to successful mental health treatment and effective social worker interventions,” it states.

The document includes the NASW Code of Ethics’ Privacy and Confidentiality section, and it explains the federal health privacy laws and regulations, state law standards and practitioners’ ethical obligations in the following areas:

* confidentiality requirements (including scope of confidentiality and obtaining client consent);

* situations that require or permit the disclosure of confidential information, including Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) exceptions to confidentiality and instances in which clients are a danger to themselves or others, and

* social worker-client privilege and the release of client information in legal proceedings.

Additionally, the law note includes a review of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s frequently asked questions regarding the application of substance abuse confidentiality regulations to health information exchange; a comprehensive, state-by-state chart of social worker-client privilege and confidentiality laws; and bibliography.

To order Client Confidentiality and Privileged Communications, visit