As a public service I thought I’d explain a few things about the Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act or HIPAA. There seems to be some confusion among the general public and even among healthcare providers what is allowed and what isn’t allowed under this law that protects the rights of patients. The following are a few points I’d like to clear up for everyone.
1. Healthcare providers can have access to information. Any healthcare worker that is actively treating a patient or providing some goods or services such as filling a prescription for a given patient has the right to any and all protected health information needed to do their job. The patient by asking for the service in question grants the provider the right to access any information needed to effectively to that job. Therefore, if I need to know a drug allergy, patient history, or current medication list of a new patient to fill a prescription for them I am allowed by law to access that information from the patient or another provider. So if I, as a pharmacist, am calling a doctor’s office on behalf of a patient that I am trying to fill a prescription for I do have the right to find out information like what other medications the patient takes or what their drug allergies are so I can do my job correctly!
2. Patients offering their information doesn’t violate HIPAA. A patient can offer any information to a healthcare provider in any manner whatsoever and it doesn’t violate HIPAA. For example, if a patient is standing in the middle of a long line at the pick up counter at a pharmacy and yells out “Is my Valium ready yet?” that is not a HIPAA violation by the pharmacy staff! We weren’t the ones yelling out the drug name in front of other customers! It is the patient stating the name of the medication in front of other customers and not the provider so it doesn’t violate the privacy provisions of the law. A patient can offer any private personal health information to anyone they want. Tell the world you are on those antidepressants if you want to just don’t come back and tell us we violated your privacy in the process of you sharing all of that information about yourself.
3. Only real health information is protected. What I mean by this is when someone comes into the pharmacy with a forgery it isn’t covered by HIPAA. I actually had someone once tell me I was violating their privacy by telling the police and their doctor about a forged Percocet prescription. A fake prescription isn’t actually part of someone’s health record. Why? Because it isn’t a real prescription. As a pharmacist I have every right to tell the police, my co-workers, and anyone else for that matter what an idiot you are for trying to pass off your poorly typed fake prescription because it isn’t actually health information. It is breaking the law instead. Don’t tell me not to say the name of a drug outloud when that drug name is on a prescription that isn’t legal.
4. Patients can pick up other patient’s prescriptions but not patient profiles. I’m not saying HIPAA makes complete sense or that those that wrote the law knew what they were doing. I am merely explaining what the law says. So if you are married you have every right to pick up your spouse’s medications that are filled and waiting to be picked up. But, if you ask for a printout of the medication history your spouse must pick that up themselves. Or they can sign a form that basically releases the information and allows us to legally give that information to your spouse on your behalf. It seems stupid to me that someone can pick up someone else’s medications but not a list of that person’s medications but that is the law. Legal guardians of minors can pick up their patient profiles but for adults unless you have some kind of medical power of attorney set up you have to have that patient sign a form before we can release that patient’s profile which includes the history of what medications we filled and when we filled them.
I just wanted to clear up these few points. So many people have questions about the law and what exactly it includes. I run into situations at work all the time that could easily be cleared up if the patient or provider actually knew a little bit about the HIPAA laws themselves. I hope this helps.
The Redheaded Pharmacist