What is the difference between HIPAA and FERPA? What applies in the Student Health Services at WCU?

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are both designed to protect an individual’s privacy.  FERPA applies to the privacy of education records.  HIPAA applies to the privacy of health records. 

Although Student Health Services (SHS) provides healthcare to students and generates private health information (PHI), it is not considered a HIPAA entity.  SHS is funded by student health fees and does not bill directly to insurance companies for reimbursement, therefore, it is covered by FERPA.  This prevents the disclosure of any records or information generated in SHS without the student’s consent. 

Why should my student go to Student Health Services instead of urgent care?

Student Health provides similar services to an urgent care center, but has a much lower visit fee.  The care at SHS is uniquely different than that of a traditional medical center, such as urgent care.  Students are treated holistically at SHS.  Not only is their presenting problem managed, students are screened for depression and other issues, such as exercise, nutrition, sleep, substance abuse, and social areas, when relevant.  However, an urgent care center does have a place in healthcare.  There are times when a student may be referred to urgent care, for example, to have an X-ray.  It is best to call SHS first and ask which option would be best.

What options are available for my student who needs prescriptions?

 SHS has a dispensary which supplies medications to students that have been prescribed by a provider in SHS.  The SHS dispensary does not fill prescriptions that have been written by an outside provider.  There are several local pharmacies that students can visit to pick up a medication prescribed by an outside provider.

  How can my student get to the emergency room or specialists?

 SHS cannot transport students.  SHS will determine the best mode of transportation if a student needs to be referred elsewhere.  There are times when an ambulance will need to be called, but most times students can travel via Uber or Lyft. If SHS recommends transportation by Uber or Lyft, the student may be reimbursed for the cost of the ride by submitting a receipt to SHS.

  How does Student Health Services handle students who are 17?

 Although most states require a parent or guardian to consent to treatment if a patient is under 18 years of age, there are statutes in place that give minors the right to consent to treatment in specific situations.  For example, attending college away from home creates a situational emancipation which allows a minor to consent to treatment on their own behalf. 

Are there ever doctors in the office?

There are doctors present in SHS for several hours a day Monday-Friday.

What treatment can my student get at Student Health Services? What treatment are they unable to receive at Student Health Services?

SHS provides basic medical care for conditions such as colds, flu, gastrointestinal illness, sore throat, allergies, headache, injuries, acne, urinary problems, and more.  SHS has a lab that can run rapid tests for strep, mono, flu, blood glucose, and urinary tract infections.  Gynecological exams are available for vaginal problems or for routine well woman visits, including pap smears and birth control.  Sexually transmitted Infection (STI) testing is available for both males and females.   Suturing and minor surgical procedures are available at discretion of the staff.  Phlebotomy (blood draws) and IV fluids are able to be done if ordered by the SHS.  Outside lab requests are not performed.  SHS is unable to do X-rays, EKGs, or any invasive procedures. 

Does my health insurance apply to my student’s visits?

SHS does not apply health insurance to the services provided.  The fees for services and testing are very low in comparison with other healthcare settings.  Health insurance can be used for the payment of some laboratory testing in SHS, if applicable.  A student can also use their health insurance at a pharmacy to pay for medications prescribed at SHS. 

What medicines should my student have in their room?

It is helpful if students have several common over-the-counter medications available to them in their rooms.  Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen are good choices for pain or fever management, along with a thermometer.  Benadryl is helpful in case of an allergic reaction.  Students should bring other medications that they take on a regular basis with them.

Can I be alerted if my student has a medical emergency?

If a student is believed to be involved in a health or safety emergency, the person designated as the emergency contact on file may be notified. 

Is there a pharmacy on campus?

There is a dispensary in SHS which supplies medication that is prescribed at the time of visit.  There are also convenience stores on campus, in Lawrence Hall and Sykes Student Union, which supply some common over-the-counter medications. 

What should I (my student) prepare to maintain wellness while attending WCU?

Please refer to our Wellness Checklist .


Barboza, S., Epps, S., Byington, R., & Keene, S. (2008). HIPAA goes to school: clarifying privacy laws in the education environment. The Internet Journal of Law, Healthcare, and Ethics. 6, 2.

McDonald, S. J. (2008).  The family rights and privacy act: 7 myths – and the truth.  The Chronicle of Higher Education. 54(32). Retrieved September 17, 2019 from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Family-RightsPrivacy/32616

McNary, A. (2014). Consent to treatment of minors. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 11, 43-45.

Strauss, L. J. (2016). HIPAA versus FERPA. Journal of Health Care Compliance, 37-38.

Wise, R. A., King, A. R., & Miller, J. C. (2011). When HIPAA and FERPA apply to University Training Clinics. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 5, 48-56.