March 9, 2011

Protected Health Information: Is it really kept private?

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 11:25 am

By:  Nathan Spruill

Protected Health Information has been a matter of doctor-patient confidentiality for years and according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, it is the doctor’s responsibility to always keep this information private and protected.  As technology has improved, it has become more important in storing personal information about the patients.  This information can include things such as address, social security number and health insurance provider and payment methods.  Now that this information is being stored more on machines and computers, people are becoming more worried that this information can be leaked easier, and it is understood throughout the medical community that it becomes easier for the information to be hacked when it is stored on computers.  Experts know that the more information is transferred between machines, the more likely it is to be stolen by hackers.  Having this information stolen can be very detrimental because it can lead to someone having their identity stolen.

Private Health Information was included as part of HIPAA which was created in 1996 by Congress. Patients need to be able to have a level of understanding that they can trust their doctors and their offices to protect their private information. Obviously this information is not the kind of thing anybody would want just floating out anywhere in the cyber world or anywhere(paragraph 3) for that matter. So Congress created HIPAA to help protect the patients and give the doctors some rules on how they retain and distribute this kind of information about people. It is very important that this was enacted because patients need to be able to feel comfortable sharing information like this about themselves to their doctors, and they need to be able to be completely truthful about it.

Doctors must be provided with up-to-date and correct information about their patients because it is important for correct diagnosis and treatment. However a problem with this is that many people do not know much about HIPAA or how they can be protected. People don’t know their rights as a patient, or their laws protecting them. Obviously someone who isn’t a healthcare professional is not going to read HIPAA, and I would never expect them to. However, I think that doctors’ offices and hospitals should share some of the information in the Act to their patients. They need to sum up what the laws mean for the patients, concluding in the actions that the office takes to keep them protected. This could help the patients become more worried about where they are going for help and make the medical field as a whole more competitive leading to better protection of this information everywhere.

According to Sarah Wilson, people really don’t know that much about PHI.   She discusses a simple solution that can be used to try and help explain some of these rights to the patients. She says, “Covered entities should let their legal counsel develop a document in layman language, explain it to each patient as they come into the office and be done with the process.” Wilson is right, offices just need some kind of simplified form either hanging up or to be filled out with your basic information you have to fill out when you go to doctors’ offices.  This can help inform people of how their information is being stored and could be a much better solution of everyone involved.

Technology is ever-increasing and we all have seen the positive and negative impacts of this.  The opening up to new technology is a great step in continuing our success at many of the things we do to improve our lives.  However, we must protect this technology, and even the protection of technology is new technology.  PHI needs to be protected because it is our own personal information, and in many ways it could be bad to have some of that information leaked to a public source and possibly used by others.  Information protection is important for other companies such as banks and credit card companies, so it should be just as important when that same information is shared with doctors’ offices and pharmacies.  It is not right for this kind of information to be sold to third parties and used. So it is important that people find out information about HIPAA and PHI.  Patients should do their research, find out how protected they are at the doctors’ offices that they use now, and maybe even consider switching to offices that serve better protection.  This would be a great beginning to a movement to force offices to better protect this information in order for them to get more business.  It would just be competition like any other field of work.  It is necessary for the field to grow and become stronger for the benefit of us all.

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