Whether you're visiting a general care physician for an annual checkup or going to the hospital emergency room to seek treatment for a broken arm, you will undoubtedly be affected by HIPAA in more ways than just one. Ever since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act went into law back in 1996, the healthcare industry has gone through some pretty substantial changes, most of which have to do with patient privacy. To learn more about the ways in which HIPAA affects healthcare patients, keep reading.

One of the most notable implications of HIPAA in regards to healthcare patients involves who is allowed to access to patient's personally identifiable information (also referred to as Protected Health Information). Under HIPAA, healthcare facilities and other covered entities are prohibited from disclosing patients' information to other individuals or entities unless they have a Business Associates Agreement in place. This means your doctor, nurse or any other employee at your preferred healthcare facility cannot simply hand over your records to another organization.

If you visited a doctor's office before HIPAA took effect, you may recall sign-in sheets asking you why you were visiting. This “reason for visit” sheet has since been nixed, with HIPAA viewing it as a potential privacy breach. Writing down a reason for your visit may seem harmless enough, but you have to remember that every other patient who steps foot into the office will also see this document; therefore, they know why you are visiting, which is a breach of HIPAA's Privacy Rule.

As noted by Joan M. Podleski of the University of Washington, HIPAA is essentially a formalized version of safeguards used to protect patient privacy, but with newly added administrative steps.

HIPAA’s commitment to patient privacy is just a more formalized version of what we’ve been doing for years, but now it adds administrative steps to document what’s always been good practice,” said University of Washington, St. Louis Privacy Officer Joan M. Podleski, assistant vice chancellor for medical affairs and executive director of clinical operations for the Faculty Practice Plan. “It also sets a floor for all health-care providers in every state to follow, rather than the previous variations across the country.”

Because of HIPAA, healthcare patients' data is now more secure. And this couldn't come at a better time given all of the recent hacking incidents involving healthcare facilities and insurance providers. Assuming the entity abides by HIPAA's Rules, however, its patients data should be safeguarded from unauthorized use or disclosure.

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