When it comes to your medical records, privacy is probably one of your top concerns. This is why the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed by Congress in 1996. HIPAA gives you the right to inspect and obtain a copy of your medical records. However, the document is dense and sometimes difficult to understand. Luckily, there’s a solution.
The World Privacy Forum, a non-profit public interest research group focused on consumer education in the area of privacy, published A Patient’s Guide to HIPAA. The online guide, which is divided into 65 questions and answers, explains HIPAA in terms that are easy to understand. The guide has four sections, which include an introduction to medical privacy and the seven basic patient rights in HIPAA.
The process of writing the guide was long. “It took over two years,” says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum and one of the authors of the guide. “John Fanning, a former privacy advocate for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert Gellman, a privacy expert, wrote the first draft. Dr. Lewis Lorton, also a privacy expert, and I did a lot of editing. Then we did a lot of testing with consumers,” Dixon says. They worked at the guidelines until consumers could read and “have a prayer of understanding it,” Dixon says. “People have a lot of questions about forms they need, how they can get their records, and when their records are covered under HIPAA. The feedback has been incredibly positive.”
Under HIPAA you can get an account of disclosure at no charge in a twelve month year. There’s a nominal fee if you need the records more than once in a calendar year. You should be able to get them within 30 days, or 60 days at the most.
If you mistakenly authorize a disclosure you have to put that fact in writing to all parties, but the best way is to simply tell your healthcare provider that you made a mistake, and you’d like to keep your records private.
But HIPAA is full of loopholes. There are many entities that can access your healthcare records. “HIPAA is not perfect at all,” Dixon says. “HIPAA allows so many uses and disclosures that you wouldn’t even believe it. But you still have to know about them.”
Dr. Cheryl Smith, medical director at Mount Morris Medical Center in New York, agrees that HIPAA is “somewhat helpful,” despite the shortcomings. “There are loopholes, but previously we didn’t have even this, so I think it is a good thing,” says Smith. “There are things we need to tighten up. However, given the level of freedom that existed before, I think having the guidelines is really important.”