Understanding HIPAA Guidelines

Whether you’re a patient or a provider, it’s important to understand the ways that HIPAA policies and procedures impact the health care industry in the United States. HIPAA guidelines can provide patients with confidence in their privacy. Get to know your rights and responsibilities with this HIPAA quick fact sheet.

What is HIPAA?

HIPAA is an acronym that stands for Health Insurance, Portability and Accountability Act. This is a U.S. law established in 1996 under President Bill Clinton. This law impacts the way health care providers and all businesses associated with the health care industry in the U.S., including health insurance providers, can share and must secure an individual’s health care information. Essentially, HIPAA is all about your privacy as a patient. HIPAA rules are intended to govern the behavior of providers, insurers and other health care professionals, but they do have an impact on patients as well. Chances are that you have had to sign some confidentiality and record release forms upon establishing yourself as a patient at a new doctor’s office — that’s due to HIPAA.

HIPAA Security Rule

HIPAA covers a few different areas relating to health care information. Security is one of the major areas that HIPAA covers. According to HIPAA security guidelines, providers and other health care professionals must take care to protect confidential patient records from theft and other incursions from unauthorized parties. This covers both paper and digital records. Analog file cabinets must be locked, and digital databases must be password-protected.

HIPAA Privacy Rule

HIPAA privacy compliance standards are probably the most familiar to the average person. Your health care providers are not allowed to share information about your health with anyone who isn’t treating you unless you give them permission. That’s why you have to sign a release form when your medical records get transferred from one office to another. This privacy rule applies whether it’s something trivial like the fact that a patient broke his or her arm when he or she was six years old. It could also be something more serious like the fact that a patient has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. There are some exceptions, such as a public health concern, but these exceptions are specific and rare.

HIPAA Patient Rights

As you may be able to tell, HIPAA is all about protecting certain patient rights. Primarily, HIPAA guarantees your right to privacy when it comes to health care. The law also gives you a right to access your own health care records.

How HIPAA Impacts Health Care Professionals

To be HIPAA compliant, health care industry professionals — not just doctors and nurses but the administrative staff and health insurance professionals as well — need to respect their patients’ right to privacy. The law doesn’t prevent these professionals from talking about their jobs, but it does make them responsible for not spreading information that can be traced back to a specific person. Informational carelessness, from gossiping to leaving files lying around where anyone can see them, is a bad idea.