A recent article published in The New York Times highlights the confusion around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA. The article is titled HIPAA’s use as Code of Silence Often Misinterprets the Law, and can be found here.
The article notes that hospitals, doctors, and nurses often misinterpret the privacy issues addressed by HIPAA. The desired effect of the law was to protect the private health information of patients, so such information could not be widely disseminated without a patient’s consent. However, the unintended consequences of the law have been far reaching. Sometimes, a family member will try to provide important information about their loved one’s medication, but the hospital refuses to listen, citing HIPAA. Other times, friends and family members are denied the most basic information about a patient, because the provider fears that providing this information would violate HIPAA.
Fortunately, there are easy to read resources for you to educate yourself and medical staff about the ins-and-outs of HIPPA which are available online. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Office for Civil Rights has prepared a “Patient’s Guide to the HIPAA Privacy Rule,” found here, and the United Hospital Funds’ “Next Step in Care” website has created a document titled “HIPAA: Questions and Answers for Family Caregivers,” which can be found here.
If you’d like to ensure that your loved ones can communicate with your doctors, you may want to consider executing a Health Care Proxy. A properly executed Health Care Proxy allows one person (the “agent”) to make medical decisions on behalf of another person (the “principal”). The agent can act when the principal is incapacitated. When a doctor or nurse is presented with a valid Health Care Proxy form, he or she knows that the principal made the conscious decision to nominate this agent, and will be more likely to engage in an open dialogue regarding care and medical concerns with the agent.
Here at LSED, our office prepares Health Care Proxies for those who wish to nominate an agent. If interested, feel free to call our office at 716-853-3087. The above articles and fact sheets show that the world of HIPPA can be confusing to navigate. Having a Health Care Proxy can be a great tool to provide guidance and direction so you don’t have added stress at the time of a medical emergency.