3 Facts Everyone Should Know About HIPAA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law designed to set and protect the privacy of patients as it relates to access to medical information. The scope of that information includes records kept in a medical office, information on patients currently in hospitals, and even specifics about health issues. While the law is comprehensive, most patients have a lot of questions about how HIPAA works and who has access to their information. Here are three key facts that everyone should know about the protections provided under this law.

Medical Professionals Cannot Share Your Information Without Obtaining Your Permission 

One concern voiced by many patients has to do with sharing their personal medical information with other entities. The fact is that you must provide authorization before your doctor, dentist, or other medical professional can supply any of your data to another party.

This means your information cannot be released to businesses for the purpose of attempting to sell you products. It also means your family doctor will not release medical information to a specialist or even your family dentist unless you have provided permission to do so.

Even if the third party is a business associate of your medical professional, and the plan is to release limited information that the party can use to contact you on behalf of the medical professional, you still need to provide permission. Even then, your information cannot be used to market any of the third party’s goods or services.

The Details That Can Be Left on a Voice Mail Message are Limited 

Many medical professionals contact patients by email, voice mail, or text regarding upcoming appointments or to notify them that test results are back. There are limits on what type of information can be shared during that contact. The general recommendation is to provide only the name of the medical professional, a return phone number, an appointment date and time if appropriate, and the name of the person the caller is trying to reach.

Information about the health of the patient or anything that is finance related should not be shared in these types of communications. Keep that information secure until the patient returns the message and it’s possible to speak directly. The goal is to ensure that no unauthorized person has the opportunity to gain protected information by hacking an email account, listening to a voice mail without permission, or sneaking a look at a text message.

You Can Provide Authorization for a Friend to Receive Information Related to Your Health and Treatment 

Some people assume that only the next of kin can receive medical information from a healthcare provider. That is not the case. It’s possible to authorize a doctor, dentist, or other medical professional to release information to a trusted friend or relative other than the spouse, parent, or child. That authorization must be in writing and kept in your patient file, along with contact information for that authorized contact.

Many hospitals and other facilities have adopted the use of passwords that the authorized party must use in order to receive medical information. Only you, the authorized party, and the medical staff with access to your patient file will recognize the code.

If you are concerned about your medical information and how it’s guarded, have a talk with your medical provider. Ask any questions that come to mind and listen closely to the answers. You will soon learn how this law protects your private information, ensures only those with proper authorization have access, and in general keeps your private business private.

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