These are the thoughts of a cantankerous ol' gynecologist who remembers when things were a little different. I try to find a little humor in my life and the people I meet along the way. Come meet the characters in my world.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Confidentiality and Medical Records

HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
Are you frustrated because you called the doctor’s office about your Mom’s medications and nobody would talk to you?  Are you angry because you called to check on your husband’s prescription and the pharmacy couldn’t tell you anything?  Did you want to get a copy of your latest lab results, and they said you needed to come sign a form?  These are all things you can thank your federal government for. 
Several years ago, the government decided that there was too much sharing of information in the medical profession.  So they set to work making rules and regulations about it.  As usual, everything got more complicated. 
Now there is that form that you have to sign at every doctor’s office.  You see it at the dentist and the pharmacy, too.  We have to protect your privacy and tell you what your rights are.  The only “entity” who can invade your privacy without asking is – are you ready? – the government!  If they want something, we have to give it to them, without asking YOU.
It used to be that I could just call radiology or the lab and ask for your results.  Not anymore.  Now I need a records release all signed and witnessed.  Can I send your Pap smear results to your medical doctor?  Not without your signed consent.  If I send you to another doctor for surgery, then you come back to see me, I need to get a records release to get the operative record if s/he forgot to send it to me. 
Those sign in sheets everyone used to have?  Those aren’t really legal anymore, either.  You can see who else has an appointment etc.  That’s a VIOLATION!!!!!! (Insert Mr. Impatient giggling here – he thinks that’s funny).  We’re even supposed to keep our screens turned away from patients so you can’t see what we’re typing.  What???
Basically, this law has created more paper work.  It makes most of us in medicine much more paranoid about what we can and can’t say or send.  It also makes us very, very careful about whom we talk to about what.  There are disclaimers everywhere about changing identifying details unless we get permission. 
When the law first started, we even had major discussions about whether or not a fax signature was a “legal” signature, or whether we had to have the “original” signature.  Somehow, as fax machines have become more common, that has worked itself out.  It’s OK to fax your signature now. 
The law was intended to maintain your privacy.  I think, as usual, bureaucracy has made things more complicated without necessarily doing what was intended.  It came from the government.  So is anyone surprised?

No comments: