Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Patients prescribed big dose of privacy

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Starting this week, consumers will notice a few changes when they visit the doctor, dentist, pharmacy and other health-care providers.

Federal privacy rules established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) kicked in Monday. The rules set strict standards outlining which public and private entities can access consumers' health records.

Under the law, patients should be given notice by providers explaining the new regulations.

• The new regulations allow patients to review their medical records, request corrections and file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights or Department of Health and Human Services. Patients also can find out if their records have been disclosed to public health or law enforcement officials.

• Also, providers are barred from giving out information to third parties for marketing purposes or to employers without the patient's permission.

Most patients will notice few changes, says Cynthia Stroud, protected health information coordinator at St. Elizabeth Medical Center. "There might be a few more forms to fill out," she says.

But patients will have to notify hospital officials when they're admitted if they want anyone to know they're in the hospital, including friends and relatives. If patients opt not to be listed in the hospital's directory, cards and flowers won't be delivered, phone calls won't be forwarded.

Patients also will have to write permission slips for family members and friends to pick up their prescriptions, test results, etc.

The new regulations affect hospitals, physician and dental offices, pharmacies, labs and testing sites, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, blood banks and organ and tissue banks.

HIPAA will set up a civil and criminal system of fines and jail time for providers who violate the new regulations, but compliance will be driven by consumer complaints, officials say.


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