HIPAA: It Does More for Patients than Protect Private Information

Drew Laroche

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, is well-known for its provisions ensuring the privacy of patient information. Even so, most patients will find that its other provisions are at least – if not more – important to their day-to-day health care. Here are some of the ways HIPAA benefits patients:

Improved Access to Your Own Records
Before HIPAA, health care providers and institutions could deny you access to your own health records almost arbitrarily. This was not only arrogant of them and frustrating to people like you, it caused the unnecessary repetition of medical tests if you decided to get a second opinion or switch to another provider. In some cases, it resulted in physically damaging medical snafus.

Thanks to these problems, there was a buildup of popular demand for regulations that would force health care providers to divulge information at their patients’ request. HIPAA has done much to meet this demand. It mandates that this information be released to patients except in a small set of circumstances.

Health Care Providers Must Send Information to Other Providers if Requested by the Patient
Another thing health centers once did in order to try to monopolize their patients was refuse to send information to competing facilities. This meant that in some cases, patients who switched providers had to have all of their tests repeated. While the added costs were just fine in the eyes of such providers, both patients and insurance companies considered them bogus. Now, HIPAA makes it so that a patient can direct a health center to send his or her information to another provider, and the first one has to comply.

Patients Can Suppress Information They Want to Keep Private
This addresses the opposite side of the information-keeping issue. In some cases, medical centers weren’t too secretive, but the opposite – they would automatically send out entire patient files to any other center that asked. Sometimes, this resulted in the problematic spread of specific information that patients wanted to keep to themselves.

One of HIPAA’s most well-known provisions puts a stop to this practice. Patients can be very specific about which information can be divulged and to who it can be sent. Now, going to a new doctor doesn’t mean that he or she gets to find out everything about you. Suppressing information can also help stop the problem of doctors rubber-stamping each others’ diagnoses.

Patients Can Control Which Non-Health-Related Individuals Can See Their Information
Before HIPAA, some health care facilities had policies that automatically allowed certain people outside of the health care field to see patient information. For example, a husband could get his wife’s data – sometimes with little or no trouble at all. Thanks to the human condition, there were times when such access worked out very badly for the patient.

Under the Act, this is no longer a possibility. Patients have to specifically authorize such people to get their information. While it is sometimes a good idea to go ahead and authorize someone outside the field to access your files, it is up to you exactly who this will be. If you choose to keep everything to yourself, or authorize someone who the facility wouldn’t have expected, the provider has to obey your directives.

Preventing Identity Theft
This is so important that it deserves a mention despite already having plenty of press. Health files often contain data that can be used for identity theft, so HIPAA mandates that facilities and offices keep your files under strict security. In many cases, the facilities will think of this aspect first because it required them to go out of their way at the time of implementation.

Together, HIPAA’s provisions protect patients in many ways. It is one aspect of healthcare that has few detractors, and that’s for very good reason.

Visit us at SecureNetMD® so we can help you stay continually HIPAA compliant through our IT consulting services.

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