In a world of information leaks and data breaches, client confidentiality becomes more important every day. As a medical services provider, it is important to understand the rules and regulations surrounding confidential information and what you can and should do to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of everyone who seeks services from your organization.
HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was legislation first introduced in 1996 during the Clinton Administration. The Bill was formally passed into law, and required full compliance by all hospitals and medical providers no later than April 14, 2003. HIPPA is an organized system to protect a patient’s right to privacy regarding their medical records.
What Is Confidentiality?
In the framework of medical ethics, confidentiality is the obligation to safeguard information from unauthorized use, disclosure, or editing. Client confidentiality is a fundamental part of a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Maintaining the trust and confidence of every patient and their medical history is to ensure that no harm is done.
As part of the standards to safeguard confidential information, HIPPA rules are consistent across the country, and apply to all health care plans, clearinghouses, hospitals and medical treatment facilities, and all providers within those organizations. HIPPA rule also applies to the electronic transmission of client information.
While it may sometimes seem extreme, HIPPA and confidentiality rules are meant to protect patients and give them the authority regarding what level of information they choose to share with family members or other healthcare providers.
Why Is Confidentiality Important?
Confidentiality is a core value of the medical profession. In order to properly and effectively treat a patient, medical providers must know very private details about a person’s family and medical history. If a patient is concerned the information they provide will be made public or not kept confidential, they may be less likely to inform their doctor about vital information. Knowing their medical service provider will safeguard confidential information ensures better treatment for the patient.
Confidentiality applies not only to information shared between a doctor and a patient, but also to that same information being shared by multiple care providers, such as nurses, specialists, and administrators. Healthcare personnel may discuss specifics about a patient’s medical information, but only among themselves as it pertains to the client’s care. Anyone, regardless of their role within a care facility, is subject to HIPPA and must respect patient privacy at all times.
How to Safeguard Confidential Information
After HIPPA regulations went into effect, most healthcare providers and institutions established informational programs to teach employees about the importance of client confidentiality. It is common to see signs in hospital elevators and common areas reminding staff to not discuss any details or information about a patient in public.
Protecting confidentiality also extends to written documents, medical records, laboratory test and other documented information relevant to the medical history and care of the patient. This can become a complex balancing act, especially with advances in technology and the transmission of electronic data.
Most medical service providers have rules and regulations in place to ensure compliance with HIPPA in all areas of client contact. Moreover, as new technologies develop, many of these organizations provide their employees with regular education and information sessions to keep abreast of changes that will further safeguard confidential information.
In situations that are confusing or complex, simply using common sense can be the best course of action. If the disclosure of information seems gratuitous or unnecessary then don’t do it. Protecting the basic welfare of the patient should be the overriding factor at all times.
How Can Clients Help Keep Their Information Confidential?
Most people sign a HIPAA Consent Form during their initial visit to a doctor. This consent form allows providers to use the disclosed information as appropriate to provide the best treatment options for each patient. HIPAA Consent is different from an Authorization Form, which grants access to client records by an appointed or designated person or business.
For example, a client may consent to their primary care doctor using their information for treatment purposes, and they would separately authorize the sharing of confidential medical information with a spouse, attorney, or diagnostic specialist. It is important for both patients and providers to understand the important difference between these two release forms.
As we become more digital in the way we share information, we open ourselves up to unauthorized access by hackers and people who seek to do damage to people’s reputation. It is increasingly important that the fundamentals of safeguarding confidential information begin with each individual. Behind every diagnostic and diagnosis is a real person with real life. Using common sense and good judgment can go a long way in respecting the confidentiality of those people who have entrusted others with their private information.