HIPAA Musings

Posted on May 20, 2010


Is it good customer service to require a husband to call a hospital ‘hotline’ and supply a patient code to receive a status update on his wife? No. Yet this is what was asked of me recently.  This particular facility is not Grand Central Station, mind you; more importantly, it is not a reasonable application of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to not discuss the status of my wife over the phone.

I think facility administrators instruct their employees to follow the letter of the law, often blindly, not the intent of the law—to the detriment of their organizations. Federal guidelines require human intellect for correct application (and sometimes an attorney to interpret), and are not to be executed robotically. When a husband or wife calls in to a hospital or doctor, whose medical condition and symptoms they live with every day (and someone the spouse files taxes with—isn’t that the real key?); it is surely no breach of patient privacy to discuss the spouse’s status.

HIPAA was passed to protect patient privacy and the sharing of information with third-party sources, primarily health insurers that could deny coverage to an individual based on that knowledge. I am not a HIPAA scholar, merely a frustrated customer.

Aspects of our own business are not immune to inane policy protocol and rigid, mechanical interpretations of something initially written by a person for the benefit of people. Let us be able to take a step back, a third-party approach if you will, and see things from the outside in order to fix things in our daily practices that look good on paper and sound good in discussion but when put into practice, simply irritate and undermine relationships with those whom we are trying to work so hard help.

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