USA Today Examines Misinterpretation of HIPAA Medical Privacy Rule
USA Today on Friday looked at how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act medical privacy rule has been misinterpreted by some in the health care industry since it was implemented in April, which has led some lawmakers to "wonder whether their quest to protect patients' privacy went too far." For example, health care providers have misinterpreted the law to mean that they cannot release information to police investigating crimes, discuss treatments with other physicians via e-mail, send patients appointment-reminder postcards, leave messages on patients' answering machines, disclose appointment times to spouses or use residents' names to locate their homes during ambulance runs, USA Today reports. According to Richard Campanelli, director of HHS' Office for Civil Rights, which is charged with enforcing the medical privacy rule, the rule allows hospitals and physicians to share information with friends and family members whom patients identify as being involved in their care. The rule does not prevent hospitals from disclosing patient names to clergy or from keeping patient directories, prevent physicians and hospitals from sharing information to treat patients or apply to most police and fire departments, he said. The rule also does not require patients' permission to be listed in the directory but allows them to opt out of being listed, Campanelli said. However, some providers said that the law's "fine print seems contradictory" and that attorneys have told them the law can be interpreted in several ways, USA Today reports. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chair Larry Craig (R-Idaho) last month held a hearing to examine whether the new law is "overdue or overkill" (Parker, USA Today, 10/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.