Protect the Privacy of Your Medical Records
Dan Morhaim writing on how to protect the privacy of your medical records…
There are very few things that are more important than the privacy of your medical records. They contain information about your health and wellbeing, but may also contain items that you may not wish to be shared or known to others. This could range from everyday medical problems to issues concerning your mental health, genetics, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, family problems, or drug use.
But what most people don’t know is that each of us has access to our own medical records. This is guaranteed by a federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This act details your ability to access your medical records, your privacy rights, and it also spells out the limited number of others who could have access. Plus, each state may have additional laws protecting your privacy and access in addition to the federal one. Check out both to be sure you know the rules, especially if you are having any problems.
First, it’s a good idea to have a complete copy of your records to help direct your care. As a physician, I advise patients to ask for a copy – or at least a summary – with every visit. If you should happen to see a new doctor, or if you have to go to an Emergency Room for immediate service, the medical information could help your provider give you the best care possible. Otherwise, tests could be repeated, procedures done that may not be necessary, or wrong medications given.
Additionally, there could be errors in your record that only you would know. Without your personal review, these would remain uncorrected.
How do you get your records? It’s simple. Just ask.
If you request paper copies, then providers are permitted to charge a reasonable amount for copying. If providers have electronic records, then they should provide the record to you electronically. Many providers now have secure, personal-health, record systems so you can see your records online. This allows you to partner with your provider. Ask your healthcare provider if that’s available to you.
What if you or your insurance company has not paid your medical bills yet? A provider cannot deny giving records for that reason.
These rules have to be followed by:
- Insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans, Medicare and Medicaid
- Doctors, clinics, hospitals, psychologists, dentists, nursing homes, pharmacies, and all other clinicians
- Healthcare entities that technically process information.
There are exceptions to the rules, usually involving a significant legal issue. For example, law enforcement, child protective services, worker compensation cases, and licensing boards can have access when there is a legitimate reason to investigate.
Your medical records can be shared among providers taking care of you. That way your doctor, your nurse, and other key staff can work together. Or any specialist called in can review your records without specific permission.
Your family and friends may not review your medical records without your expressed consent. It’s a good idea to allow one – or some – of them to have access in case you become incapacitated in some manner. The best way to do this is by completing an Advance Directive form now if you haven’t already done so.
Your medical records are yours to possess and review. It’s your right, and you should exercise this right. Do not let this privilege go unused. If you do…you are risking your money, your privacy, and maybe even your life.
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