HIPAA and FERPA: What Is the Difference and How Can They Protect You?

By now you may have heard of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and you may also hear the term FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). HIPAA protects your health information, and FERPA protects your education record.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)

“The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information and applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and those health care providers that conduct certain health care transactions electronically.  The Rule requires appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information and sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made of such information without patient authorization. The Rule also gives patients rights over their health information, including rights to examine and obtain a copy of their health records, and to request corrections.”

HIPAA protects your health information. This applies to things like your medical records (either electronic or on paper) and test results. What that means is that your health care provider cannot share your medical information with your parents or family, your professors, or anyone else unless you give them permission. HIPAA generally applies to people over the age of 18. HIPAA allows a health care provider to share medical information with the family of someone who is a minor.

There may be times when a student health center may share information with a student’s family or with others if the person is over 18, such as in a health or safety emergency. There may be other times when information is shared, such as if someone discloses situations of child abuse.

If you want to allow your parents or family to have access to your medical records through the student health center, you could sign a HIPAA waiver form. This could be helpful in times of emergency or if you need urgent treatment. Check with staff at your school’s health center for more information.

HIPAA also gives you the right to request and review your medical records. This will allow you to transfer your medical records to other clinics, as well as to ensure the accuracy of your records. You can check with your health care provider about how to access your medical information.

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)

“The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are “eligible students.”

FERPA says that your educational records cannot be shared with others unless you give permission to do so. “Educational records” includes things like your grades, disability/accessibility records, your class schedule, and even your health/medical information. There may be times that a school will share some health or medical information, such as in situations of health or safety emergencies. Schools may also be required to share some health information if requested by a court. In addition, if a student is found responsible for violating the institution’s alcohol or drug policy, the school may opt to tell the student’s parents. This varies by college; check with the student conduct office at your school to see if this applies.

As a college student, you have a right to review your own educational records. Check with your school about the process for reviewing your student records under FERPA. This applies whether you are over 18 or under 18.

It is important to note that FERPA applies to schools who receive federal funding. While this applies to most colleges and universities, FERPA may not be applicable at your school. Check with your college personnel to learn more about your rights.

If you want to give your parents or guardians access to your school records, you may be able to sign a FERPA waiver form. Check with your institution to see if this is an option.

There are times when HIPAA and FERPA intersect. For more information on this, check out this resource from the U.S. Department of Education.