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Monday, June 5th 2006

HIPAA Improves Patient Care?

My God, I’ve spent enough time working as office staff in multiple physician’s offices to know this is a bogus claim.

Goldman and other privacy advocates point to numerous reports of health information being made public without patients’ consent — the recent theft of millions of veterans’ records that included some medical information, a California health plan that left personal information about patients posted on a public Web site for years, and a Florida hospice that sold software containing personal patient information to other hospices.

In the meantime, Goldman said, surveys continue to show that for fear that their medical information will be used against them, people avoid seeking treatment when they are sick, pay for care out of pocket, or withhold important details about their health from their doctors.

“The law came about because there was a real problem with people having their privacy violated — they lost jobs, they were embarrassed, they were stigmatized. People are afraid. The law was put in place so people wouldn’t have to choose between their privacy and getting a job or going to the doctor,” said Goldman, who also heads the Health Privacy Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. “That’s still a huge problem.”

I am for government regulated formalized patient privacy protections. But the argument for such is purely one of the importance of the right of privacy. This argument that HIPAA improves patient care, is in my mind, complete numbskullery. If this was really the idea behind this man’s passion when he helped construct the HIPAA law then he’s a fool.

Any benefit gained by patients seeking care for sensitive issues is easily outweighed by the costs of the bueacracy, slow down and lapses in the ability to communicate patient data between healthcare entities (don’t pretend that doesn’t happen just because HIPAA makes provisions for it), and other issues.

In any case the entire Washington Post article is a little baloney. They chastise the Department of Health & Human Services for not imposing fines in 70% of complaints. What percentage of those cases that they didn’t hand out fines went something like this –

Patient notices record sitting on unattended computer screen where everyone can see.

Low level medical record clerk with high school degree sends out patient’s records even though the release, while filled out by the patient, was accidentally not signed.

Patient complains that physician office is slow in amending his medical record, per his request, that he was treated for syphilis in 1997 NOT 1999!

The physician office’s EMR system doesn’t quite meet government security standards. Hackers are lurking, watch out!

It has been two and a half weeks since I asked to see my own records! I filled out a little form, and left it on in someone’s ‘in box’ shaped like a waste basket, I don’t know the person’s name I left it for, and I haven’t checked in since but my God someone should’ve handled my request by now.

80%? 90%? Maybe more? This isn’t people’s records being posted negligently on the web. This isn’t records being sold. This isn’t, for the large part, records being sent to employers, to entities with authority over patients. I’m not sure heavy fines can lower the rate of such examples of complaints as listed above.

There are over 5,000 cases open, some likely involving major neglect or even malice. What the hell is this article complaining about? My God, we have to come down on that office, that clerk faxed my medical records to the wrong doctor’s office! Now anyone could have them! If we fine them now, that clerk will never hit 5 instead of 6 on the fax machine ever again!

For any casual reader this article is alarmist and paints a completely single sided picture of the situation.

H/T Slashdot