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Types of information shared by psychiatrists vs. psychologists

Types of information shared by psychiatrists vs. psychologists

The distinction between psychiatry and psychology helps patients understand whom to consult depending on their needs, whether they require medical treatment or therapeutic counseling. This distinction also helps patients understand which forms and how patient data will be handled differently in either practice. 


The differences between psychiatry and psychology

Psychiatry and psychology are both fields that focus on mental health, but they differ in key ways. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication and use medical tests to diagnose and treat mental health issues. Their medical training lets them understand the physical aspects of mental disorders, such as brain chemistry or genetics. Psychologists, on the other hand, are not medical doctors. They often hold doctoral degrees in psychology and specialize in therapy and counseling. A central difference in their treatment styles is illustrated in the article, What Is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?,Psychologists cannot prescribe medications, but they often work closely with psychiatrists and other medical professionals to provide comprehensive care for their patients.”

Because of their different training, psychiatrists and psychologists handle different types of information. Psychiatrists focus more on biological data and medical details, like symptoms that have a physical cause or how medications can help. Psychologists delve deep into thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, using psychological tests to understand a person's mind and guide their therapy sessions. This means if patients are considering help for mental health issues, the choice between a psychiatrist and a psychologist might come down to whether their concerns are more medical or emotional in nature.

See also: Using HIPAA compliant texts for mental health promotion


The forms of PHI are handled by psychiatrists and not psychologists 

Psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, have the ability to handle certain forms of PHI that psychologists, who are not medical doctors, typically do not manage. This distinction primarily arises from the medical nature of a psychiatrist's training and their legal authority to diagnose and treat mental health issues through medical interventions. 

Here’s a breakdown of the specific types of PHI commonly handled by psychiatrists but not by psychologists:

  1. Psychiatrists maintain comprehensive medical records that include detailed information about a patient's physical health. 
  2. Since psychiatrists can prescribe medication, they handle PHI related to medications, including dosage, duration, and monitoring of side effects. 
  3. Psychiatrists often order laboratory tests to rule out or confirm physical causes of symptoms. 
  4. In some cases, psychiatrists may use neuroimaging studies like MRI or CT scans to investigate neurological issues that could influence psychiatric conditions. 
  5. Psychiatrists may consider genetic testing to identify vulnerabilities to certain psychiatric disorders. 
  6. When a psychiatric condition necessitates hospitalization, psychiatrists manage the related PHI, including details of the patient’s condition at admission, treatment provided, progress notes, and discharge plans.
  7. Comprehensive medical histories are necessary in psychiatry to understand all factors that might influence a patient’s mental health.
  8. Psychiatrists, like other medical doctors, also manage PHI related to billing and insurance. 


The differences in handling PHI between these practices

Psychological practices

  1. Use and protection of psychotherapy notes: Psychotherapy notes in psychological practices are especially protected under HIPAA. Unlike other medical records, psychologists must maintain these notes separately from other medical records.
  2. Controlled access and disclosure: Psychologists typically control access to psychological assessments and treatment records more strictly than general medical records. When sharing information with schools, employers, or other third parties for assessments or accommodations, psychologists often redact data to limit exposure to only what is strictly necessary.

Psychiatric practices

  1. Integration with medical and pharmaceutical systems: Psychiatrists' practices are heavily integrated with broader medical systems. This requires them to often use specialized EHR systems equipped to handle complex drug interaction checks and real-time prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) queries.
  2. Management of sensitive diagnostic information: Psychiatrists handle sensitive diagnostic data such as genetic tests or brain imaging studies. Given the potential stigma and discrimination associated with psychiatric diagnoses, extra precautions are often taken to segregate this information within medical records and limit access strictly to authorized personnel.

Best practices for both

  1. Utilize HIPAA compliant email for communicating with patients about appointments, treatment summaries, and follow up care.
  2. Keep psychotherapy notes entirely separate from other medical records, stored in secure, encrypted formats. Access should be strictly controlled and monitored.
  3. When transferring or sharing psychological assessments and results, share only the necessary information that fulfills the specific request or requirement.
  4. Regularly review and update consent forms that clearly explain how electronic communications will be used, what data will be shared, and the security measures in place to protect patient information.
  5. Employ electronic prescribing tools that comply with HIPAA and offer additional security measures.
  6. Use platforms that allow for the integration of monitoring tools, such as those tracking mood or medication effects, which can provide real time data during virtual consultations.

See also: Top 12 HIPAA compliant email services



What is an EHR?

An Electronic Health Record is a digital version of a patient's medical history and treatment details, maintained by healthcare providers over time.


What is PHI?

Protected Health Information is any information in a medical record that can be used to identify an individual and that was created, used, or disclosed in the course of providing healthcare services.


Do consent requirements between psychiatry and psychology differ?

No, consent requirements between psychiatry and psychology do not generally differ.

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