HIPAA Rules Explained
New Medical Privacy Rules Meant to Protect Your Health Records
WebMD News Archive
WebMD asked Kimberly Rask, MD, PhD, director the center on
health outcomes and quality at Emory University's Rollins School of Public
Health, to put HIPAA rules into perspective.
Q: What does HIPAA mean to the average person? What has
Rask: The intent is to protect the privacy of your health
information. What's different is that HIPAA puts some very specific rules in
place about when, how, and what kind of information can be shared. Also, it
makes sure that the person whose information is being shared is aware of that
Q: What will happen when we see our doctors?
Rask: There are two things patients will see. First, doctors'
offices will ask patients to sign papers saying they are aware the office has
privacy policies in place. They can review those policies if they like. Second,
patients may be asked to sign forms that authorize sharing of medical
information with other healthcare providers involved in their care. They may be
required to sign separate forms for each provider.
Q: Is this really going to make our medical records more
Rask: I think actually, from a privacy perspective, having
these regulations in place guarantees a higher level of privacy. I don't think
there's a downside here.
Q: What's not to like?
Rask: Where there is a downside is in bigger issues that
don't relate to individual patients. Example one: In order to comply, many
doctors, hospitals, etc. are spending enormous amounts [of money] to become
compliant. Dollars that go to this are not dollars that go elsewhere. It is
important to think about the costs of making this paperwork trail. At a time
when we are having so much trouble providing minimal healthcare to so much of
our population, I would like to see more of an emphasis on care than on
paperwork. But that is a trade-off we are making to ensure better privacy.
The second problem I have is that we aren't just concerned with
the care given to an individual patient. We also are concerned about the
quality of care we provide and about patient safety. For these larger issues,
researchers need to be able to look at patient information. We need to be able
to tell when things went wrong and when they went right. The more we restrict
this research, the more we restrict our ability to describe and improve what is
going on in the healthcare system. That is a trade-off, too. Some people would
feel that the privacy of an individual outweighs any other benefit. On the
other hand, it is very difficult to change or improve healthcare if we can't
look at what is being done.