Private Matters

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

heart vascular health line art

“Love your blog!” said one of our caregivers at the Miller Family & Vascular Institute. “If you ask me, The Beating Edge would be the perfect place to answer what seems to be one of the burning questions of our time.”

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Burning question?

“Yes, something that patients need to know, and that we get bugged about over and over – What is HIPAA?.”

“We get it all the time. People who have friends or relatives in the hospital call us up to see how the patient is doing, and there isn’t much we can tell them. Not because we don’t know. But because the federal government has placed strict limitations on the information we can release about patients and their condition. The restrictions are part of a law that is known for short as HIPAA.”

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What’s HIPAA stand for?

“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This law went into effect in 1995, and it governs a whole lot of technical things relating to insurance. But it also contains something called the Privacy Rule which has had a major effect on the way patient information is stored, communicated and secured.”

“The Privacy Rule protects all individually identifiable health information held or transmitted by health care providers and their business associates, in any form or media, whether electronic, paper, or oral. That means we need to take extraordinary care to protect patients’ records, especially electronic records. We keep patients’ names from being seen on screens in waiting rooms. We don’t tell the media or anyone else what someone is being treated for, or reveal the names of patients – even celebrities – without their permission.”

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So what should I do if my cousin is having heart surgery at the Heart & Vascular Institute, and I want to find out how she’s doing?

“Here’s what you should do … Call the Cleveland Clinic Patient Information Line and 216-444-2000 and ask for the patient by first and last name. The personnel who answer that line can give you the room number and phone number of the room. They can tell you a general statement, such as good or fair condition. If you want more detail – you will need to call the patient or a family spokesperson for more information. Please note that patients do have the right to “opt out” of the patient directory.

[Please note: I made a correction on 9/15 to change HIPPA TO HIPAA. Sorry for the spelling error. betsyRN ]

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