HIPAA For Dummies

     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

14 Comments to “HIPAA For Dummies”

  1. By WarmSocks, May 7, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

    Thank you. I’ve run into #4 before – highly frustrating! Would a handwritten release work, or does every pharmacy have their own special form?


  2. By Frantic Pharmacist, May 8, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

    Yes #4 is a source of consternation to many people, but that’s the way it is. The other situation that can be difficult is when a parent asks for their 16-year old’s prescription profile. Legally they are still a minor and the parent can ask for it, but if you print it off and it shows contraceptives, etc. then we’re supposed to use our judgement as to whether the kid should OK it first. Prescriptions have always been part of the confidential medical record, and pharmacists have always been required to observe that — it just seems like HIPAA was a requirement that we give all those rules to people in writing.


  3. By Hedy, May 9, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

    Great article! I used to work in benefits, and the (mis) information about HIPAA is incredible.


  4. By michael, December 11, 2010 @ 11:41 pm

    i have a cuzin whos 16 n was raped n her step dad a cop beats her n her mom n she needs 2 be on sum meds but is afraid for her life her cop dad will find out n she get beatn is she protected by the hipa law were in NYS n she needs help…


  5. By Candice, March 18, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

    I was at the eye dr office just this past week. My 16yr old son was seeing the dr. and the lady there told me that I am NOT to fill out his paper work. that HE is to do because HE is 16yr old and it is under the HIPPA law. The sate of Colorado says that 16yr old is to do all there own paper work for any Dr. I am sorry..IF I am paying for this and the 16yr old son is UNDER my health care I AM DOING THE WORK and I am the ONE who is PAYING for this. I have been trying to find the Hippa law for Colorado. need help on this.


  6. By Julie, June 1, 2011 @ 2:35 am

    Why do some Drs. have me fill out a GENERAL type of HIPPA form asking who they can release my info to (I always write down my husband and my daughter since I am handicapped and they can run in and pick up my records, films, test results, etc., for me much easier than I can get it) while other Drs. say I must fill out a HIPPA release form for each incident/problem I see the Dr. about? The Dr who said I must fill one out each time (and had me initial it in 4 or 5 different places before signing the bottom) says there is no form that I can sign that will allow my spouse (or adult daughter) to always be allowed to pick up ANY of my info. Is this true? Are the general forms fake? Razz


  7. By Nancy Lee, June 28, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

    While working in a practice for a speciality field and on weekends working at home for a different speciality. you email you corrections from your weekend work to your work computer to print only for your next weekend work. Is emailing patient reports from another practice to inhouse email a HIPPA violation???


  8. By Jamie, December 14, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    Is it a HIPAA violation for a pharmacy tech to discuss medication I took after a miscarriage with another associate (outside of the pharmacy)?


  9. By Bob Simac, February 27, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    I was told by a Dr Felman (Ft Lauderdale), that he did not have to follow the HIPPA laws when it comes to a workmanship Comp. case, I find this hard to believe. Is it possible that he can Discuss this with someone that I am Employeed “With”. Thank you


  10. By lisa, September 2, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

    Who is actually able to call or ask questions about the meds you were on or are on? Besides the police!


  11. By Ruthy, April 21, 2013 @ 2:21 am

    Hi! My husband and I are separated and when he left the house he took all the papers from the house with him, social security, birth certificates, bills, my medical information/reports. I just learned that he forwarded my medical reports to a third party which I am not involved with. What action can I take if any? I live in South Carolina. Thank you!


  12. By Lisa, February 2, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    What about number 2 switched around? I had a pharmacist horribly embarrass me by shouting out my medication and stating she refuses to “fill this Percocet prescription”. And that I’ve been “on that narcotic pain med too long”. Is that a violation? I’ve already filed a report with the pharmacy but am looking to take legal actions. Thanks for your help.


  13. By wansley lockridge, April 12, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    Can I see two different doctors, which both has given me meds but not at the same time and one doctor call the other without me knowing to question about meds for no reason?


  14. By Derek, June 6, 2014 @ 12:38 am

    So are you saying that a pharmacist is allowed to contact your prescribing general practitioner and inform him/her of medications you are receiving from your psychiatrist? Solely based on the fact that the pharmacist doesn’t agree with the medications? You pharmacists seem to pry a little too much, using safety as a scapegoat. Although I’ve learned it’s right on the border line of hipaa violation, the board of pharmacy informed me it is a violation of civil rights. Any thoughts?


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