First and foremost, HIPAA was established to protect the rights of the patient. These rights relate to different areas of data privacy, but all have the same fundamental goal: ensure that a patient’s protected health information (PHI) is maintained securely and not shared with unauthorized personnel. There are other aspects of data privacy that are covered by HIPAA, too, which serve to give a patient agency over their own data. These include things like access to their own data or to offer corrections to medical files.
How does HIPAA protect data?
HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996) is an incredible complex document that healthcare professionals undergo extensive training to be able to understand and implement. This training ensures that anyone who comes in contact with PHI knows how to handle it, what needs to be done to protect it, and what should be done if its integrity is threated. The HIPAA training thus acts as a “first line of defence” to protect patient privacy. As such, the Office for Civil Rights – the governmental body tasked with enforcing HIPAA – puts a huge emphasis of training and can issue severe financial penalties if they find that it is not provided to employees.
But this compliance training is just one way by which HIPAA protects patient data. The Security Rule, added to the main body of legislation in 2005, describes a number of different “safeguards” that must be implemented to protect patient data.
What other rights to patients have?
Of course, HIPAA’s focus on patients means that it is unsurprising that the act awards patients with other rights. One of the primary ones is the right to access your own medical records. This means that the patient has the right to request copies – either electronic or hard-copy – from their healthcare provider, who should act on such requests without undue delay. The healthcare provider must not withhold medical records until a patient pays an outstanding bill – the patient has the right to the records irrespective of any debts to the provider and denial of access is a HIPAA violation.
Though the OCR encourages all healthcare providers to offer this service for free, some may choose to charge the patient a small fee to cover the administrative costs associated with the request. These records can be sent to any individual or device of your choosing, including other healthcare professions.
If a patient sees a mistake when viewing medical records, they have the right to request the mistake is changed. This request should also be acted upon without undue delay. All requests must be approved by a medical professional, and if they dispute the proposed change the patient still retains the right to have their request noted on their file.
Finally, a large part of HIPAA concerns itself with ensuring that only relevant and authorized personnel access patient data. There are, however, a few instances in which others may access the data. These primarily relate to issues of national security or public health, but a patient retains the right to know who has accessed their healthcare data.
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