Your Medical History Privacy and the Pharmacy: HIPPA and What You Need to Know

It’s probably one of the most embarrassing moments you can recall. You walk to the pharmacy counter expecting to pick up one prescription. You had finally gone to the doctor for the embarrassing problem, and now, quietly it would be solved.
“Hi, I would like to pick up a prescription for John Smith,” you say to the clerk. The pharmacy worker, about two feet away from the register calls out “what’s your date of birth?” You answer “July 9th, 1957.” You look behind you to see who is behind you. There is a line out the door.

“Mr. Smith, is it supposed to be your Viagra prescription?” the clerk says in a loud voice. You feel your pulse begin to increase and your face must be red. That embarrassing little problem you had is now the whole community’s business.
Isn’t there something to protect you? Yes, and it’s called the Health Information Privacy Protection (HIPPA) Act. It is put there so that you do not have to go through this embarrassing situation, and if you do, you can take action. Federal Law now gives you full rights over your health information, as well as limiting who can see this information.
Here are some answers to general questions about the Act.

Who is bound to comply to this law?

Any healthcare provider. This means doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and the like. Your healthcare insurance company, including Medicare and Medicaid.

It says that my information is protected. Exactly what information is protected?

Any information in your medical record, diagnosis, symptoms, blood pressure, test results, etc. This also includes verbal conversations with your doctor or a nurse about treatments and symptoms. Your insurance company also must protect your information kept on their computer system.

What information am I entitled to receive about my own medical records?

Doctors offices, Insurance companies must allow you to see and make copies of your medical records, and allow corrections to be made by them. You are also entitled to receive information and give your consent if you would like your information to be used for marketing. (ex: if you have acid reflux, you could sign up for a marketing plan that might give you coupons in the mail from Nexium or Prilosec OTC)

What information can be shared?

Although the majority of your medical information is private, there are certain circumstances where your information can be shared. These include: required reports to police, outbreaks(like the flu), with family that you identify it is okay to share info with(those who pay the insurance bills), and to use for billing in doctors offices and hospitals.

If you think that your privacy has been violated, it is important to take action. Contact the Department of Health and Human Services, and they can give you the steps necessary to file a complaint. It’s your information, and nobody has the right to abuse it!

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