It used to be very clear that communications between a doctor and patient were confidential. However, as the healthcare community started relying on electronic equipment to transfer medical records, different issues arose. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA specifically states its respect for each patient’s right to privacy. But the true confidentiality of healthcare information is no longer so secure.
One of HIPAA’s purposes was to set a national standard for electronic transfers of medical information. This information includes each patient’s:
- Name, address and social security number.
- Medical history, present health, and possible genetic issues.
- Specific diagnosis and treatment, including test results, prescription drugs and lab tests.
- Health insurance coverage.
- Other information that the healthcare provider may have obtained in defining an individual patient’s healthcare needs and financial options.
As a means of protecting patient confidentiality, except in emergency situations, it is illegal for a treating physician to disclose private medical information without first obtaining the patient’s permission. Such permission can be given orally, but must be written in the patient’s medical chart or provided through a power of attorney for health care, a very helpful legal tool.
On the other hand, HIPAA specifically allows healthcare providers to disclose patient information to automobile and life insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, and government benefit programs. With healthcare information being provided to so many different places, while still being denied to others, each patients true right to privacy in the doctor”s office may not always prevail.
The law’s true purpose was to enable healthcare providers to benefit from electronic information transfers – a truly innovative state of technology. Unfortunately, the once confidential and respected relationship between each individual patient and his or her treating physician just is not what it used to be.