As the healthcare industry becomes an increasing part of the American economy, the industry is looking for ways to control costs. One area of increasing liability for such providers is the privacy of medical records. To control costs, many medical providers are offshoring their maintenance of such records. With increasing digitization many of these records are kept in electronic format. Federal laws and regulations are under increasing pressure to keep up with current storage methods.
With regard to federal laws, the Health Information Privacy and Protection Act (HIPAA) is the main Act that regulates access and storage of such records for medical providers to protect the privacy of patients. The Act obviously covers healthcare providers, but it also goes beyond those who create the information and also reaches businesses that do business with such providers and handle the records. For example, this will include companies who destroy medical record for hospitals and any contractors for those entities.
It is also important to note those who are not covered by the Act. Employers, schools, and law enforcement agencies are not covered even though they may have access to medical records of those in their employ or custody from time to time. Sometimes companies and states will fill in the gaps with these other entities. It is important to check with state laws to see how any sensitive health information will be handled.
Another notable Act is the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, which provides more opportunities to ensure the safety of sensitive healthcare information.
It is also important to note that when you file suit for personal injury or workers’ compensation you are waiving some of the privacy protections. In a lawsuit, your personal medical information is at issue and anything relevant to the case must be disclosed. Some of this may be embarrassing but if such information is reasonable to provide an alternative theory for injuries, it is open to discovery.
Health records can be accessed by the patient and any of those authorized by the patient. Make sure to read any disclosure forms to know where and to whom your information is going.
Anyone who suspects a violation of HIPAA can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Your case may be different. Hiring an attorney immediately will protect your rights. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance.