From both a legal and an ethical perspective, patients have the right to confidentiality. What this means, exactly, we will explain in the following guide to help you understand your patient confidentiality rights.
A breach of patient confidentiality is a serious offense. If your right to health information privacy was violated, you may have cause to take legal action. Thomas Law Offices in Louisville, KY represents clients whose legal rights were abused by a health insurer or medical care provider.
Our personal injury lawyers can help you better understand your patient confidentiality rights and how to protect them.
What Are Patient Confidentiality Rights?
Most of us, whether consciously or subconsciously, know that information about our health is a private matter. When you visit a doctor for a checkup, pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, or schedule an appointment for a troubling medical issue you’ve been experiencing, you assume these actions are private. If your employer suddenly knew the sensitive details you and your doctor discussed at your appointment, you would feel as though your personal life had been exposed without your consent.
Patient confidentiality rights work to protect individuals from situations like this. A patient’s right to privacy in health care is built into federal law. Laws like HIPAA set guidelines for health care providers and health insurance companies regarding who has access to private health information.
What Are HIPAA Laws?
HIPAA—The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—is a federal law that was enacted in 1996. HIPPA is today regarded as the national standard for the protection of sensitive patient health information.
The laws contained within the Act prevent confidential health data from being disclosed without the patient’s consent. HIPAA grants individuals who seek medical care the right to privacy and confidentiality. If an entity responsible for handling sensitive health care information (referred to as a “covered entity”) releases a patient’s data without their knowledge or consent, they may face criminal charges and be required to pay restitution to the victim.
Covered entities that are legally obligated to follow HIPAA regulations include:
- Health insurance companies
- Doctors, nurses, technicians, and other medical providers
- Health clinics
- Nursing homes
- Medicare and Medicaid
- Company health plans for employees
- Electronic health insurance billing companies
- Some partners, electronic processors, contractors/subcontractors, or business associates of the above-listed entities
What Information Is Protected Under HIPAA Law?
It is against the law for an entity to release any of the following confidential information without the patient’s knowledge or consent:
- Information in your medical record
- Notes made by doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals
- Information that your health insurance company has about you
- Health care billing information
- Visit records to hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and other centers of treatment
Essentially, any information that one of the covered entities listed above possesses about your health and health care is considered confidential. HIPAA states that almost any kind of health-related or medical-related information specific to a patient is protected under the law.
What Rights Is a Patient Granted Under HIPAA Law?
In addition to your patient confidentiality rights, HIPAA laws afford patients the following rights:
- To request and obtain copies of your own medical records
- To be informed of how your health information will be used
- To be notified if your data needs to be shared with another party
- To receive reports on why and how your data was shared for certain purposes
- To make decisions about who can have access to your health care information
- To make changes and corrections to your recorded health information
- To choose to allow or deny access to your data for purposes such as marketing
- To restrict how a covered entity uses or discloses your information
- To be free from having your private information sold for profit
- To be protected from having your health care provider share your information with your employer without your knowledge or consent
- To ask and receive more information about your rights from your health care provider or health insurance company
- To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services if your rights were violated
When Can a Patient’s Health Information Be Used and Shared?
There are rules and limits governing who can see your health information and when. Under certain circumstances, it is necessary that your private medical information be used and shared by parties involved in your health care. It is not a violation of your patient confidentiality rights if your data is used in a legal way that does not interfere with your health care or right to privacy.
Examples of how private medical information can be legally used and shared include:
- Between medical providers who are treating the same patient
- To a nursing home or care facility coordinating a care plan for a resident
- Between an insurance company and a hospital to pay medical bills
- Among relatives and close friends to whom the patient has granted access
- To administrators or other bodies overseeing the quality of care in a hospital or nursing home
- When it is necessary for public health, such as in the case of an epidemic outbreak
- When it is necessary for a criminal case, such as reporting a gunshot wound
What Can I Do if My Patient Confidentiality Rights Were Violated?
If you believe your patient confidentiality rights were abused, you can file a complaint with the responsible hospital or health insurance company. You can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services by mail, fax, e-mail, or online through the Complaint Portal within 180 days of the violation.
However, filing a complaint does not guarantee that you will receive the justice you deserve for an illegal violation of your right to confidentiality. You may have legal standing for a medical malpractice claim or other type of legal action. We encourage you to contact Thomas Law Offices’ Louisville office to discuss your case in greater detail with an attorney. We will not charge a fee for a no-obligation case evaluation.
Contact our office by phone or online to schedule a free discussion of your legal options.