Privacy is a growing concern for many churches, largely due to changes to the Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). While this law is meant to apply to health care providers who conduct certain administrative and financial transactions electronically, our judicial system has often applied principles more broadly than the law outlines. If your church provides medical care, perhaps through a health clinic, or has employees on a church-sponsored health plan, you should talk with legal counsel about how the HIPAA changes may apply to you.
Even so, it’s wise for churches to use discretion when disseminating the personal information often contained in a prayer request, especially as it relates to health. Invasion of Privacy laws can still be the basis of a lawsuit when an individual feels their private information has been shared without their permission.
Prayer is an important part of most churches daily functioning, and you shouldn’t feel that you have to give it up for legal reasons. How can you share prayer requests while respecting the requester’s private information? A little caution and sensitivity goes a long way. As a Georgia church insurance company, we’ve come up with a few strategies to stay safe while still meeting your congregation’s prayer needs. Here are our 3 tips for protecting your member’s privacy when sharing prayer requesting.
1. Always Get Permission
The best policy is to get permission – preferably in writing – from the individual before sharing any details with your congregation. Whenever possible, have the individual outline what information is acceptable to share. Another method, though less effective, is an “opt-out” policy. Under this policy the church would share requests publically unless the requester specifically asks them not to. Of course, if an individual herself shares her request publically, that’s considered direct consent.
The legality surrounding the private medical information of employees who are on church-sponsored health insurance can get very tricky. Use even more caution when sharing the prayer requests of staff members.
2. Share on an As-Needed Basis
Simplicity is key. Even when you have explicit consent, the most you typically need to share publically would be the person’s name and general nature of the request (having surgery, lost a family member, etc.). While pastoral staff may need more details to care for the church member, your congregation doesn’t need more than the basics to start praying.
With permission, you could list the contact information of a specified individual who could field questions and facilitate other acts of service, like making meals or bringing flowers.
3. Keep Thorough Records
In the unfortunate event that a lawsuit is brought against your church for sharing private information, thorough record-keeping could protect you. Be sure to keep written records on every prayer request, including who submitted it, what they gave you permission to share, and their written consent when possible.
We’re a leading Georgia church insurance company and we’re here to help you stay safe without compromising your church’s function. By following these tips, you’ll ensure the privacy of your church members while still meeting their need for prayer.