What is HIPAA?

You often hear about your HIPAA rights but do you know what is involved or how your information can be shared with others?

First, let's start with a definition of HIPAA.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that sets rules for health care providers and health plans about who can look at and receive your health information, including those closest to you - your family members and friends. The HIPAA Privacy Rule ensures that you have rights over your health information, including the right to get your information, make sure it’s correct and know who has seen it.

So, now you know what HIPAA means and you want to share health information with a family member or a friend.  What happens?  HIPAA requires doctors, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers to protect the privacy of your health information. However, a health care provider or health plan may share relevant information with family members or friends involved in your health care or payment for your health care, but only in certain circumstances.

When can your health information be shared?  Under HIPAA, your health care provider may share your information if:

  • You give your provider or plan permission to share the information.
  • You are present and do not object to sharing the information.

For example:

  • An emergency room doctor may discuss your treatment in front of your friend when you ask your friend to come into the treatment room.
  • Your hospital may discuss your bill with your daughter who is with you and has a question about the charges, if you do not object.
  • Your doctor may discuss the drugs you need with your health aide who has come with you to your appointment.
  • Health care providers may give prescription drugs, medical supplies, X-rays and other health care items to a family member, friend or other person you send to pick them up.

A health care provider or health plan may also share relevant information if you are not present or cannot give permission when a health care provider or plan representative believes, based on professional judgment, that sharing the information is in your best interest. For example:

  • You had emergency surgery and are still unconscious. Your surgeon may tell your spouse about your condition, either in person or by phone, while you are unconscious.
  • Your doctor may discuss your drugs with your caregiver who calls your doctor with a question about the right dosage.

Although there are circumstances where your health information can be shared, there are situations where it is not allowed. For example:

  • A nurse who is treating you and is friends with your brother may not discuss your condition with him.
  • A doctor may not tell your friend about a past medical problem that is unrelated to your current condition.

For more information about sharing your health information with family members and friends, or for more information about HIPAA, click here.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services