The communication of personal health information within and between justice and health systems is regulated by a combination of federal and state laws and ethical standards. These privacy laws and regulations are designed to protect patient autonomy, confidentiality, doctor-patient trust, and human dignity. Information that may indicate someone’s mental health, substance use, or HIV status is subject to more stringent protection, because people facing these health challenges may experience social marginalization or other forms of stigma if it is revealed.

Although privacy laws may seem cumbersome and complicated, they do not create insurmountable barriers to information sharing. In many instances, the inability of health and justice systems to communicate and coordinate services is far more damaging than the potential risks related to misuse or accidental exposure of confidential health information.

This module provides an overview of the laws, regulations, and ethical standards that protect the privacy of personal health information. It includes links to resources that provide more detail on the relevant laws and regulations and presents ways to structure information sharing initiatives to maximize access to treatment while complying with federal and state laws.