Advertisement

 

 

Decisions made in Orlando: Is there any law more misunderstood than HIPAA?

Decisions made in Orlando: Is there any law more misunderstood than HIPAA?
Author Information (click to view)

Skeptical Scalpel

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.


Skeptical Scalpel (click to view)

Skeptical Scalpel

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.

Advertisement
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

On the morning of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, a tweet by CNN stated, “The White House waived HIPAA regulations so that hospitals could talk with family members of shooting victims, says Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.”

Many, including me, retweeted this thinking that it was probably unprecedented.

Later that day, several Twitter followers informed me that HIPAA had been waived during Hurricane Katrina. Despite rumors to the contrary about 9/11, Katrina was the only time a HIPAA waiver has ever been issued.

Regarding Orlando, the White House never issued a HIPAA waiver. An article in Slate on Monday explained that HIPAA has provisions stating patient information can be shared without consent in an emergency if a physician feels that there is a need.

Let’s hope the discussion about the supposed waiver is finally over.

The least understood provision of HIPAA concerns the sharing of information between providers. Obtaining information from another physician or a hospital is often hindered by an erroneous belief that a signed consent must be obtained from a patient before protected health information can be exchanged.

Here is what Health and Human Services has to say: “The Privacy Rule allows covered health care providers to share protected health information for treatment purposes without patient authorization, as long as they use reasonable safeguards when doing so. These treatment communications may occur orally or in writing, by phone, fax, e-mail, or otherwise.”

Another myth is that hospitals may not tell visitors or callers that a patient is in the hospital and what his condition is. This information may be disclosed “if doing so is in the individual’s best interest as determined in the professional judgment of the provider.” This applies to patients in the emergency room as well.

Here is more about why a waiver was not needed for the victims of the Orlando shootings.

In a severe disaster, which Orlando certainly was, “Health care providers can share patient information as necessary to identify, locate, and notify family members, guardians, or anyone else responsible for the individual’s care of the individual’s location, general condition, or death. An incapacitated patient’s protected health information may also be shared with “family, friends, or others” if a provider feels that doing so is in the patient’s best interest.

Clarifications about HIPAA can be found in the frequently asked questions section of the HHS.gov website.

The most confusing thing about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act apparently is its acronym. Contrary to what many believe, it’s not HIPPA.

Hippa is a genus of decapod crustaceans in the family Hippidae, one of which is the Pacific sand crab.

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.

2 Comments

  1. Alleged compliance with HIPAA resulted in providers opting to work without any pt hx when an unresponsive pt was brought in to their ED. The one person present, a close friend & another nurse, unaware her friend & mentor had coded in transport, was never advised of the code or extremely critical status nor asked to provide pt hx the unresponsive pt herself was clearly unable to give. This is despite providing all of the pt’s personal info to admitting & advising of the close friendship & the desire to see her friend ASAP.
    Subsequent complaints to managers of the ED, CICU & hospital administration all fell on extremely defensive ears. Pt info was only discussed with “next of kin” and despite the fact there was no family present in this circumstance, they still hung their hats on compliance with HIPAA.
    As you could probably surmise, this actually happened to me & my dear friend & nurse mentor. A nurse myself, I knew this strict adherence & interpretation of HIPAA had to be wrong, but by that time I was exhausted by the total incompetence & simply took on the role of watchdog for my friend.
    This is just one example, but there are far too many times as healthcare providers we cling to our P&P’s and R&R’s, unwilling to bend when circumstances clearly dictate the need. At some point we are going to have to descend our lofty perches & see the world from the level of our pts again.

    Reply
  2. Apropos of nothing, it’s cephalopod week. 🙂

    HIPAA is, as you state, so very misunderstood. Sadly, it is often ignored.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 + seventeen =

[ HIDE/SHOW ]