The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996 to safeguard medical information. Records previously were usually kept in file cabinets and were basically not protected. With the introduction of electronically transferring medical data, it became important to secure this information. HIPAA ensures how, when, where, and to whom this medical information can be distributed along with specific rules to follow.
HIPAA does affect a patient’s access to their medical information. Prior to enacting this privacy rule, medical offices might simply provide information or make copies of patient records without any written documentation. Patients along with family members might be able to easily access their information. Prior to HIPAA, some states were not required to make medical offices release a patient’s records to them. Now, patients sign authorization forms regarding their medical data which maintain their privacy and rights. Not only does HIPAA allow patient’s access to their information, it allows them to make changes to their information and obtain copies of medical records (usually for a fee).
There are circumstances where personal health information can be used unrelated to health care. HIPAA permits disclosure if the information is required by law. An example would be by court order. Information may be provided regarding public health activities (collecting of data to control disease, FDA regulations, or provide OSHA workplace information). Covered entities may also be required to contact authorities concerning victims of domestic violence, neglect, or abuse. Other circumstances include health oversight activities (such as audits), judicial and administrative proceedings, law enforcement purposes (such as locating fugitives, obtain information on crime victims, court orders), and for decendants where information may need to be provided to funeral directors, medical examiners, or coroners for...
References: Flight, Myrtle. Law, Liability, and Ethics for the Health Professional Fourth Edition. Canada: Delmar Cengage Learning, 2004.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “HIPAA Basics: Medical Privacy in the Electronic Age.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Summary of HIPAA Privacy Rule.” Revised May 2003. http://hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/summary/index/html.
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