HIPAA and Your Private Medical Information

Learn About What Those Papers You Sign Mean

Doctor charting in her office
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What does HIPAA mean?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects patient privacy and ensures privacy of all accumulated health information that belongs to the patient. It was signed into law in 1996 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Healthcare providers nationwide were required to comply with the rules and regulations of privacy protection by April of 2003.

What does it mean to me?

It means that your private health information is protected by federal law. You have rights regarding your personal information and it provides specific rules and regulations on who may have access to it.

Why do I have to sign the HIPAA agreement papers every time I see a healthcare provider?

The HIPAA agreement states that you must be given the "Notice of Privacy Practices" statement which belongs to the facility that you have an appointment with. The notice states how the healthcare providers can use the information from your personal medical file, and when and to whom they can give the information. If you are a regular patient at a facility, you may only have to sign the HIPAA paperwork once and then it will become part of your file. Some facilities do require you to sign one at every visit however. It depends on the policy of the facility.

Does my doctor have to sign the HIPAA agreement too?

Medical staff do have to sign an agreement at least once a year, stating that they are aware of the provisions of the law, that they understand these laws and that they will uphold these laws.

These are kept on file at the facility at which they work. States may differ in their requirements, but the basic privacy laws must be upheld.

What are my rights under the federal HIPAA laws?

You can ask to see your records and to get copies of them. You can make corrections, which would be included in your chart.

You will be notified if your health information needs to be shared with other healthcare providers or specialists, insurance companies or billing personnel. You can file complaints if you feel your privacy rights were violated in any way.

What kind of information does it protect?

It protects any kind of health information such as office visits, tests and procedures, diagnosis, or other facets of medical care. This includes mental health information, therapy, counseling or other aspects of mental health care. Information that is spoken, printed or transmitted electronically all fall under the HIPAA privacy act.

Does my healthcare provider have the right to share my information?

Yes. Your healthcare provider does have the right to share your information with:

    Keep in mind that if you want your medical records from one office sent to another, you will have to sign a release form.

    What if I want access to my health information?

    You should have access to all your health information whenever and wherever you want. This includes office visits, tests and lab results, and communication between healthcare providers. You also have the right to know who your information has been shared with. Many medical offices today have the ability to allow you to review your documents on-line. Ask your health care provider if you are interested. 

    Who gets to see my confidential health information?

    Anyone directly involved in your care would have access to your information. Doctors, nurses, certified diabetes educators and other medical personnel, billing offices and secretarial might all have legal access to it. Any specialists, personnel who perform lab tests and diagnostic tests, or any procedures either outpatient or inpatient may also have access to your records for the time that you are in their care. Basically, anyone who is needed to provide the best medical care for you can review otherwise protected HIPPA information.


    Health Information Privacy. Office for Civil Rights. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/

    Your Rights Under HIPPA. United States Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html

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