HIPAA: Protecting the Privacy of Patients
How important is it for you to keep your medical records private? Many people don't realize
how easily accessible their medical records are, or perhaps it is just assumed that what goes on
between a doctor and a patient stays between a doctor and a patient. Well, you know what they say
about assuming. In actuality, your medical records can probably be accessed by any employee at your
doctor's office. I work in the healthcare industry and have access to countless files. With a first and last
name I can easily look up the results of your last labs, every emergency room visit or doctor's
consultation you've ever had, whether or not you've kept your last doctor's appointment, not to mention
your address and social security number. If any of what I have just said is beginning to worry, I'm here
to let you know your information is safe under the privacy rule of the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). I will give you a general idea of what HIPAA means to you, as
well as the effects it will have on you and anyone who seeks medical attention and lastly, what
healthcare providers are doing to enforce this act.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by Congress on
21 August 1996, and became effective July 1, 1997. This act is a grouping of regulations that work to
combat waste, fraud and abuse, improve portability of health insurance coverage, and simplify health
care administration. HIPAA is vitally important to the health care industry as it includes provisions to
promote efficient electronic transmission of health information, enhance patient rights, and provide
standards to protect the privacy and security of health information. HIPAA provides rights and
protection for participants and beneficiaries in group health plans. It includes protections for coverage
under group health plans that limit exclusions for pre-existing conditions, prohibit discrimination
against employees and dependents based on their health status; and allows individuals to enroll in a
new plan under certain circumstances.
What is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) became law in 1996. It
requires health care providers, insurance companies and others involved in health care transactions to
provide security on any system containing personal health information, store and transmit that
information according to standardized rules, and place an automatic audit on files to help keep track of
who should have access to them and whether those access rules have been violated. HIPAA makes it
easier to transfer health information electronically; it also provides important privacy and security
standards to safeguard the confidentiality and availability of such information. This is a broad federal
regulatory effort that significantly affects the health care industry.
Protecting Your Privacy
The most important provision of HIPAA is the Privacy Rule. The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides
the first national standards for protecting the privacy of health information. This rule covers an
individual's "protected health information (PHI)." PHI is individually identifiable health information
that is transmitted or maintained in any form or medium. This type of information includes bills,
claims, prescriptions, data, lab results, medical opinions and even appointment histories. All health
care providers, HMO's and health insurers must comply with this privacy rule if they electronically
store health information. The Privacy Rule, called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act of 1996), gives the patient strong rights over his or her information, and it requires...