HIPAA and Privacy Protection
Privacy protection in the healthcare world revolves around the acronym HIPAA. It is a term you hear often from patients to providers, but what exactly does HIPAA entail? To start, HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (1996). Below is a quick summary of some key points:
- Protection of healthcare coverage in terms of job termination, divorce, separation, etc; and coverage regarding preexisting conditions.
- Privacy and rights protection through the creation of Protected Health Information (PHI).
- PHI must be observed by health care providers (e.g., physicians, pharmacists, nursing homes, clinics, etc), health plans (e.g., insurance companies, Medicare, HMOs, etc) and a health care clearinghouse.
- National provider identifiers (NPIs) for individuals instead of social security numbers to ensure privacy and protection.
- Patient access to medical records and the identification of those who can access the records; and the capability of making changes to medical records (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).
The one disclaimer about HIPAA: It is observed by those covered entities who conduct healthcare transactions electronically (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, n.d.).
Privacy and preserving a patient’s rights are imperative in the today’s healthcare world. With the advancement of technology, patients are worried about who has access to their information. Where the federal government ends with HIPAA and privacy laws, state laws are in place to take over. For instance, if state laws are more stringent in areas of privacy they will take precedence over HIPAA. Congress has mentioned a preemption of state privacy laws with a single federal health privacy standard, but a majority of politicians do not want to be associated with taking away citizens’ privacy rights (Pritts, 2007).
Privacy Protection and Death with Dignity
We all value our health; and most importantly we value keeping our information private. Most people do not want their medical history, lifestyle choices, lab results, prescriptions, procedures, etc., made public. This rings true for a terminal diagnosis. For instance, Steve Jobs, the genius behind Apple, kept his pancreatic cancer diagnosis a secret for some months. The media assumed it was because the diagnosis would have hurt Apple stock prices (CNET, 2015). Some terminal disease processes, like cancer, can bring a stigma that a person is weak; and those diagnosed are given a death sentence by public opinion. As a hospice nurse, I cared for patients who placed shame upon themselves for “giving up” for choosing comfort care in lieu of aggressive treatments. Regardless if a person chooses aggressive treatments, hospice, or death with dignity, the decision should be a private matter between the affected person and their loved ones.
Other Thoughts…About Rights…and Privacy
In the United States (U.S.) there is ongoing dialogue about respecting one’s rights. This week the focus was on the right to privacy in an electronic age. Supporters of Death with Dignity would say that people of the U.S. are being stripped of their human rights. Also, those participating in Death with Dignity are being condemned by opponents in a public forum. If one if choosing to end their life with dignity, shouldn’t we all respect their decision and privacy in this matter? I guess this is the ongoing debate (not only with healthcare rights) but also reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. The debate goes on!
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (n.d.). HIPAA: General information. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/HIPAA-Administrative-Simplification/HIPAAGenInfo/index.html?redirect=/hipaageninfo/
CNET (2015). Jobs his cancer diagnosis for nine months. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/jobs-hid-cancer-diagnosis-for-9-months/
Pritts, J. L. (2007). Federal efforts to impose uniformity on state health information and privacy laws. Health Law & Policy, 2007, 20-23.
United States Department Health & Human Services (n.d.). Understanding health information privacy. Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/