Here’s a new HIPAA cartoon. This cartoon is about protected health information (PHI). In the HIPAA regulations, the definition of PHI is quite complicated, as it is splintered into at least three separate parts that appear in HIPAA’s definitions section. Pursuant to HIPAA, 45 CFR 160.103:
Health informationmeans any information, including genetic information, whether oral or recorded in any form or medium, that: (1) Is created or received by a health care provider, health plan, public health authority, employer, life insurer, school or university, or health care clearinghouse; and (2) Relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual; the provision of health care to an individual; or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.
HIPAA doesn’t handle patient access to medical records very well. There are many misunderstandings about patient access under HIPAA that make it quite difficult for patients to obtain their medical information quickly and conveniently.
Getting records is currently like a scavenger hunt. Patients have to call and call again, wait seemingly forever to get records, and receive them via ancient means like mail and fax. I often scratch my head at why fax is still used today — it’s one step more advanced than carrier pigeon.
Suppose your elderly mother is being treated at the hospital for a heart condition. Your mother tells her doctor that you can have access to her health information. The doctor, however, doesn’t disclose the information to you.
The doctor thinks that you can only have the information with a signed written authorization. Is this correct?
No. HIPAA doesn’t require a signed or even a written authorization. If a patient tells a doctor that protected health information (PHI) can be shared with family or friends, then that’s all that is needed. The doctor can disclose it to you.
So has the doctor violated HIPAA by refusing to disclose the PHI?