The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is legislation that provides guidelines and practices for the safeguarding of private medical information. Most familiar to the general public is HIPAA’s Title II, which established national standards for the electronic access and transmission of personal health care information.
When health care organizations do not comply with these standards, it may cost them fines or criminal penalties.
Since 2003, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has received over 105,000 HIPAA complaints. Some of those complaints are easily addressed with simple changes to an organization’s data management practices or technical training. However, others are more serious, leading to criminal investigation.
The most common HIPAA violation found by the OCR was the impermissible use or disclosure or private health information. This could be a nurse in your doctor’s office telling your spouse about a recent visit or a prescribed medication without your consent. All patients are required to complete HIPAA forms that identify who may have access to their personal medical information.
Another frequent HIPAA violation is health care organizations lack of protection for private data. This largely refers to a lack of electronic safeguards that prevent the online access of sensitive data. All too familiar are the e-mail notifications warning us that our online accounts with department stores, credit card companies, and health care organizations have been compromised.
Another HIPPA violation tracked by the OCR was a lack of patient access to their own personal health records. Patient records used to be closely guarded by doctors. HIPAA is changing the way people access and manage their medical information. The law guarantees people the legal, enforceable right to copies of their medical data. This includes health plan billing, claims, and medical records. Many health care organizations are now utilizing online portals as a means of communication between patients, physicians, and insurance providers. Patients now have test results and prescription information at their disposal.
Most of the common HIPAA violations can be combatted with updated practices and an ongoing commitment to training. When organizations do not comply with HIPAA and sensitive, private medical information is compromised, they may be held accountable, health care lawyers report.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sidney Gold
Mr. Gold is the principal shareholder of the Pennsylvania & New Jersey employment law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, a preeminent law firm in the field of employment law and civil rights litigation. His practice, as well as that of the law firm, is concentrated in the representation of both employees and employers in all aspects of employment-related litigation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including claims under federal and state anti-discrimination laws and federal civil rights laws.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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