In a long line of foolishness mandated by Medicare, HIPPA is at the top of the list. It is at the top of the list because, near as I can tell, it does absolutely nothing to help a patient, and it does quite a bit to hurt a patient.
Let me explain. Prior to HIPPA, when a health professional – me, for instance – saw a patient, they could use their best discretion in who to include in dissemination of information for that patient’s care. The health professional could not willy-nilly give out information to anyone they wished, nor could they give out the information without just cause (meaning that it would benefit the patient in some manner). The health professional was treated like a, you know, health professional.
That is no longer the case. Without specific written authorization, a health professional cannot discuss a patients status with anyone. The health professional cannot even acknowlege that they are seeing a specific patient.
In common sense, everyday occurence terms, the patient has a cone of silence surrounding them that only interferes with care. Let me provide many examples,
The silliest is when a family member calls to see if a patient is at therapy, or if they have already left treatment. If the patient is still in PT, we can ask them if we should tell the family member anything. If the patient has already left PT, we are obligated to say, “We cannot acknowlege whether your patient is being seen here or not.” Seriously. If we tell the patient’s child that they have left PT, we have breached patient confidentiality. This could result in a lawsuit when a patient left PT to do something indiscreet, perhaps go to a racetrack or to have an afternoon affair. As a result of our saying, “You father has left PT.” the patient could end up in a divorce, and blame the PT for breaking HIPPA.
The more frustrating, and just as common occurence is when we see a patient’s family member in public, and we really want to share information with them. For instance, we might want to say, “Your mother is very inconsistent in attending PT. I think it is because she is so forgetful. Is there anything you can do to help her attend more consistently?” Even if the patient has signed a HIPPA release form allowing me to talk to their family, when I am out in public, I do not have this information with me. I must assume that I cannot even acknowlege seeing the patient. Does this help the patient? Nope. It only makes care worse.