Are your medical records private?
The good news: Technology is making it easier to access your medical records.
The bad news: Technology is making it easier and easier for non-authorized personnel to access your medical records. The myriad of computerized systems that store our medical records often are perceived to ultimately protect those records from computer hackers, yet as we all know, it seems the crooks are always one step ahead of the good guys … and that is certainly the case in the medical field.
We are living in a depressed economy, which creates a level of desperation for many to get money to pay their bills. This situation opens up all sorts of doors that many individuals would never have thought to pass through in healthier economic times. For example, medical professionals are reviewing medical records of well-known individuals (celebrities) and selling that information to any number of tabloids for a tidy amount of money. Or, on a grander scale, medical records for Medicare patients are getting stolen and used to defraud the federal government out of millions of dollars; consequently resulting in a rise in cost of insurance for us all.
Currently, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act(HIPAA) has standards for storing medical records to protect from theft and make it easier for medical professionals to access them when they need to treat you. However, that last part (easier access to your medical records by other medical professionals) also opens up countless opportunities for unscrupulous employees to access and steal your records. There are plenty of buyers for your medical information for a multitude of reasons. Diligence in protecting your information is imperative.
In addition to the easy access by scores upon scores of professionals allowed under HIPAA rules, the FBI (under the Patriot Act) can also access your records if you are part of an investigation that is claimed to be “international terrorist involved.” For example (true story), my wife and I were flying somewhere not too long ago, and she got detained because her name was on an FBI or TSA list. Now that in itself was disturbing, yet the truly bothersome part was how much information they had about her in minutes of looking on their supposedly secure computers to access personal information. She was released when they determined that she was indeed the wrong person.
What can be done to safeguard our privacy? Well, the law is the law, and not much can be done about HIPAA, etc. However, the Privacy Clearinghouse (www.privacyrights.org) does recommend several things:
1. When asked to sign a release, try to limit the amount of information divulged by crossing out the boilerplate language and filling in more exact terms.
2. Discuss your confidentiality concerns with your doctor.
3. Be aware that marketing-related questionnaires and health screenings at malls and other public places may gather and distribute your medical information.
Be aware of your rights, the laws pertaining to identity theft and to medical, financial and personal records (i.e., tax records, etc.). Keep an eye on your records to review how they may be used by your health care professional and other professionals you choose to use.
The safety of your personal information is up to you — be proactive and protect yourself.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.
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