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What is HIPAA?

What is HIPAA?

Harriet in New Hampshire, 69

I’m so glad you asked, because many caregivers are confused by HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is an important federal law that protects the privacy of citizens. It defines who has legal access to their confidential medical information. Basically, it attempts to keep both professional and non-professional individuals from gaining access to your elder’s medical information, or discriminating against him/her if they’re legally privy to the medical records.

The wrong person reading your elder’s file can now lead to big fines and even jail time. Your elder cannot be barred from access to quality health care based on his/her specific situation. HIPAA requires a designated representative who can access the files. Most hospitals and other health professionals will deal with one and only one “spokesperson” regarding your elder’s medical treatment and records. Usually, this one person is the elder’s spouse, the primary caregiver (you), or the healthcare proxy designee. If your elder is an alleged incapacitated person (AIP), a court can assign guardianship to another individual, and that person will have access to your elder’s medical records, not you or your family. This is something you want to manage and control if possible by putting it in writing before it gets to that stage.

The situation can become messy if your elder has not designated one person to have access to his/her records. Sometimes family members disagree about specific treatment options, or even refuse to be in the same room together due to bad blood, divorce, and other wives/husbands. Hospital ethics committees and lawyers then get involved and it can become very sad. That’s why I suggest your elder name a HIPAA designee ahead of time if possible. This should be declared in a simple sentence in your elder’s will, healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney, and DNR (do not resuscitate order).

Also, be sure to use HIPAA to your elder’s advantage if you believe something illegal has occurred. The law can be quite confusing at times, but it’s definitely making those in the medical profession more cautious about who gains access to a patient’s medical information, and that’s a good thing.

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