Medical privacy or healthcare privacy is the process of keeping the confidential and secure security of patient information. It entails both the protection of medical records and the communication of that security. With modern technology, patients are more likely to be self-diagnosed and treated for conditions that they may not have recognized themselves. A key issue in this area is the need to maintain confidentiality and maintain access to the medical records of their treatment decisions. Medical privacy and healthcare privacy are interrelated.
In addition to protecting personal information, the health insurance portability and Accountability Act of 1996 allows the patient to use their own electronic medical records if they so choose. Also, under the act, the patient can share certain records, but only with those individuals that have consented to have access to them. Some laws govern who can share which records and some do not. In essence, this means that the laws are there to prevent health insurance companies from discriminating against you for your medical information. However, since most people know little about the laws, it is best to ask before taking advantage of it.
One thing to watch out for is that many people will volunteer information about their private health-related records to various websites that offer anonymity. Unfortunately, much of this information is eventually made available to the general public. For instance, once a person has filled out the HIPAA form, his or her records may be released to the general public on request. This means that people will not have the protection of confidentiality if their physicians choose to share these records without following HIPAA guidelines.
There are also laws in place that dictate when physicians must make full disclosure of electronic health records. For instance, physicians must inform patients and their family members if they plan to disclose “unlimited records.” Limitations typically apply to personal information, such as address, social security number, and financial information. Other limitations apply to patient education, clinical trial information, test results, and counseling.
If you feel that you have been violated by HIPAA, contact your state or federal health agency for more information. Many new regulations for HIPAA do not apply until later in life. For instance, most states have enacted what is called an “informed consent” rule, which dictates that patients must receive special permission before certain disclosures. For example, prior to signing up for certain pharmaceuticals, consumers must receive a notice about certain privacy rules. Once informed, they can decide whether to accept the disclosure.
While some state legislatures, such as California, have sought to restrict the enforcement of certain laws related to privacy of individuals, other state legislatures have passed no such laws. HIPAA may have some limitations when it comes to state enforcement, but most state legislatures have voted to extend its coverage to include electronic health records, or EHRs. Although the federal government has not passed legislation extending the coverage of HIPAA to EHRs, the state governments have.
As medical technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, privacy will become even more of a top issue for health care providers. HIPAA and EHRs represent the convergence of many different privacy interests, including confidentiality and access. Because of this, the health care industry is slowly incorporating the privacy protection afforded to patient records into their systems. As regulations changes, patient privacy will continue to be a major focus.