Visiting with your doctor is a vulnerable experience, and you wouldn’t be pleased if your doctor decided to share your medical secrets with the rest of the world. Thankfully, the federal government agrees with you. Keeping medical information private is critically important in the world today, and it’s a defining right granted to you through United States legislation. Through HIPAA, your healthcare information is considered classified information unless you choose to share it, meaning that it can’t be used as a form of discrimination in your professional life.

But, what does this privacy protection mean for your visits with your doctor? This article will make it clear.

What is HIPAA?

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton in 1996. The act was initially designed to prevent discrimination by health insurance companies when employees lost their jobs or were seeking new ones, but it has since expanded into general healthcare privacy protection. Today, HIPAA controls what your doctor can do with your medical information and who it can be shared with, and it also controls how electronic medical information can be safely stored.

There are five titles within the HIPAA regulations that dictate what the policy means for your health information.

Title I: HIPAA Health Insurance Reform: Protects your health insurance coverage, even if you change or lose your job, and prevents you from being denied for pre-existing conditions.

Title II: HIPAA Administrative Simplification: Allows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create national standards for electronic healthcare information.

Title III: HIPAA Tax-Related Health Provisions: Highlights the guidelines and provisions for taxes related to medical care.

Title IV: Application and Enforcement of Group Health Plan Requirements: Defines what health insurance reform means explicitly for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.

Title V: Revenue Offsets: Includes provisions for company-owned life insurance for income tax purposes.

What is Patient Confidentiality?

At this point, you might be wondering what does confidentiality mean. The term is defined as the process for keeping information secret. Your doctor isn’t able to share sensitive medical information that pertains to you with anyone that you don’t give formal consent for.

The concept of “doctor-patient confidentiality” comes from the world of ethics, not legislature, and dates back before the Hippocratic Oath taken by all doctors before beginning their practice. Doctors promise to keep secret all information that they aren’t legally required to divulge about their patients. You can expect confidentiality from your doctor if you approach him for medical advice and no risk that your secrets will be told to other physicians. Due to the stipulations in HIPAA, your doctor can’t pass on any specific information about you as a patient without breaking the confidentiality agreement.

Often, a breach on this expectation can lead to legal trouble for the doctor. Though private citizens can’t sue, you can file a complaint against your physician, and it will likely be taken up by the Justice Department.

The provisions for your medical privacy are accounted for in HIPAA through three different rules:

  • HIPAA Privacy Rule: Officially called the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, this law creates national standards to protect the health information of patients.
  • HIPAA Security Rule: Consisting of the Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information, this policy sets standards for keeping patient data secure.
  • HIPAA Enforcement Rule: This legislature sets standards for investigations into HIPAA compliance violations.

What are Patient Rights Under HIPAA?

As a patient, you have more rights over what happens to your medical information under HIPAA than you likely realize. Patient rights under HIPAA mean that all doctors, insurance providers, and other healthcare professions need to get formal permission from you before sharing your medical information with a new source. Below are the provisions given to patients under HIPAA.

  • The Right to Receive a Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP)
  • The Right to Access Protected Health Information (PHI)
  • The Right to Amend PHI
  • The Right to an Accounting of Disclosures of PHI
  • The Right to Request a Specified Method of Communication
  • The Right to Request Restrictions on Use and Disclosure of Health Information

Understanding your rights as a patient under HIPAA is essentially for maintaining control over your personal health information. If you have any questions about HIPAA compliance during your next medical appointment, make sure to talk with your doctor to clarify your rights and ensure you are doing everything that you can to keep your medical information safe.

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