Get a great article like this in your Inbox each month

    No thanks

    Is HIPAA Compromising Patient Care?

    Sari Nossbaum | October 12, 2018

    These days, when it seems we can’t open the news without finding out about another data breach (cue Facebook and dozens of online retailers), it’s a relief to know that personal medical data is fiercely guarded by law.


    The right to privacy


    Facebook data is one thing, but if someone has undergone a hernia procedure or had prostate issues, or even psychiatric consultations, they would not want that information accessible to just anyone. This is an indisputable entitlement to protect human dignity.



    via GIPHY


    But from a medical business point of view, HIPAA can be challenging. Staff working in medical offices and hospitals are constantly tiptoeing around HIPAA stringencies and there’s a slew of minutiae connected to the law that are easy to inadvertently violate.


    Ironically, HIPAA – a law that was technically designed in the best interest of patients – might actually be making caring for patients more difficult and cumbersome than necessary.  


    Dr. CliffsNotes: A brief history of the establishment of HIPAA


    So how did we get here? Today, HIPAA is the poster child for privacy, but when President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996, it had little to do with privacy. It was designed to modernize the flow of health information electronically and to limit how health plans could use pre-existing condition exclusions. It was only in the year 2000 that the Privacy Rule, which set standards for – what became the now commonly used term “protected health information” (PHI) – was added. And not until 2003 that the Security Rule established nationwide standards for protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic PHI. Fast forward to 2009 when the notorious Breach Notification Rule came into effect, and finally the Omnibus Final Rule that became effective on March 26, 2013. These last two rules have had a drastic impact on the way medical practices and healthcare facilities operate.   



    Why HIPAA is necessary


    With the advent of the internet, and particularly social media, data sharing has proliferated into everyday life. Along with this comes the increased potential of people’s private health information being shared. As of January 2017, there had been around 35 cases of healthcare employees sharing information/photos of patients in embarrassing situations on Snapchat, which is pretty gruesome. Given medical staff’s ability to access this information, there has to be a set of laws and guidelines in place to prevent hospital employees abusing their positions and their patients.




    More than this, hackers’ ability to infiltrate data systems are a serious threat. As technology gets more sophisticated, so do hackers – as is evident by the countless data breaches in the past few years. So while it’s true that stringencies with HIPAA are only increasing, it’s simply in an effort to fend off these types of infringements.   


    Has HIPAA gone too far?


    On the flip side, with HIPAA laws becoming more and more stringent, it makes it very difficult to access and share important patient information – even in a hospital setting. Yes, even in a hospital, (depending on the medical record system used), sometimes only limited patient information can be shared, and when it is shared, it’s often not completely updated – and this can lead to lapses in patient care.


    For example, if care workers (nurses, PAs) don’t have access to the patient’s full medical record – including drug information or allergies – they might lack some crucial information necessary to tend to patients effectively. This could lead to wrong or inappropriate medications being administered, re-ordering of tests that may have been performed already,  or making treatment decisions without a full picture of the patient’s history.


    The HIPAA in the room?



    On a day-to-day basis, hospital staff are just trying to do their job and are often hindered by not having access to the information they need. But truth be told, HIPAA is not the only reason.


    According to a report in Reuters, as of 2015, fewer than a third of U.S. hospitals can find, send or receive electronic medical records for patients who received care in another institution. So it seems this issue is not exclusively due to HIPAA, but also the lack of interoperability between systems in healthcare across the US. “What this means is there is potentially a significant amount of waste and inefficiency in hospitals,” said lead study author Jay Holmgren of Harvard Business School in Boston. (Ya think!). Efficiency is certainly one issue, but the even larger issue is that staff may not be able to provide first-rate care due to a lack of information they need.


    The fact that in 2018, medical records are not always available in a hospital setting and patients or their families have to tote paper copies of their records (which they have to pay for) from doctor to doctor and hope that nothing gets lost on the way, is almost a joke. Surely this is something that should be standard in a country where billions of dollars are spent on healthcare annually.


    Dying of privacy? Striking a balance


    When the right to privacy can outweigh the ability to provide excellent patient care or even the right to common sense, the question of how HIPAA laws are established needs to be raised. Everyone involved in caring for a patient should be able to access all the information they need to ensure that their care is exemplary.


    As technology gains traction in healthcare, it’s no easy feat to strike the fine balance between compromised healthcare and the right to privacy. With our lives being increasingly lived in the open, perhaps it’s time to rethink just what levels of privacy we want, and need, to make sure the laws help rather than hinder treatment.


    Surgimate scheduling software

    Surgimate staff and others recommend
    About the author: Sari Nossbaum is the Director of Marketing at Surgimate. When she’s not writing insightful articles about surgical management, she can usually be found on her yoga mat or on her road bike, somewhere...
    Published on October 12, 2018. All rights reserved by the author.

      Get an article like this in your Inbox each month.

      Write a response
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us,
      we just need to look it over before it pops up on our site. Give us 24 hours
      Related Articles

      Looking for a pricing estimate?

      Got it, thanks!

      We will contact you within 24 hours to answer all of your questions.

        Fill in your details below and we will send over our pricing structure customized for your practice.

        See Surgimate live in action.
        Got it, thanks!
        We will contact you within 24 hours to arrange the demo.

          What are you looking to achieve? You may select more than one answer.

          How can we help?

          Send us your details and one of our solution consultants will be in touch with you shortly.

          Got it, thanks!

          We will contact you within 24 hours to answer all of your questions.

            Hear first hand from a
            Surgimate customer

            Tell us which Surgimate customer you would like to be introduced to, or describe the type of practice - the number of surgeons, speciality, PM / EHR system they’re using, or any other information that will help us find the best match for you.

            Got it, thanks!

            We will contact you within 24 hours to answer all of your questions.

              First, please tell us
              about your practice...

              Got it, thanks!