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Protecting Your Privacy: What You Need to Know About Healthcare Data Security

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With the transition to electronic records, you should be concerned about your healthcare data security. Computerized files are vulnerable to accidental release from independent organizations and the healthcare system’s data sharing. Specifically, breaches often result from authorized professionals or hackers who disseminate your personal information and steal your identity. 

A recent study by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Computer Security Institute (CSI) showed that 42% of 400 organizations had experienced data intrusions. This recent report exemplifies why you must be aware of this problem and learn how to protect yourself as a patient. 

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Understanding Your Patient Rights

Privacy And Security of Patient Health Information HIPAA Laws

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures patient privacy. HIPAA establishes national standards for securing individuals’ medical records and other identifiable health information, collectively defined as protected health information (PHI), which includes medical and billing records.

The rule requires that medical professionals follow certain safeguards to ensure the privacy of PHI while setting limits on its uses and disclosures. With HIPAA, healthcare workers are responsible for providing you access to PHI and acquiring a copy of your records.

The Privacy Rule 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule safeguards your PHI, letting you securely exchange information to coordinate care. The rule gives you the ability to:

  • Examine and obtain a copy of your medical records (electronic or paper copy)
  • Request corrections
  • Restrict access to information about treatments paid for in cash

Furthermore, it fortifies the electronic, paper, or verbal PHI you hold or transmit. 

The policy protects information surrounding:

  • Identifiers such as name, address, birth date, and SSN
  • Your past, present, or future physical or mental health condition
  • Care provided to you
  • Payments for your treatments

More importantly, you can control how and what PHI you share with other healthcare professionals, family members, and others. 

However, this policy requires that you have guidelines stating how to restrict PHI and limit disclosure. If you still need to do so, be sure to specify what these restrictions are with your healthcare professional.

Breach Notification Rule

Under HIPPA, healthcare agencies must notify you following a breach of unsecured protected health information. They must send the notification via first-class mail or email if you elect to receive electronic updates.  

Notice of Privacy Practices: Covered Entity

If you are a Covered Entity or CE (health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, or healthcare workers who electronically transmit information), you must notify your patients of your privacy practices

Your notice must include:

  • A description of how your practice may use or disclose PHI
  • Specify patient rights, including the right to complain to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services if their privacy has been violated.
  • Details of your practice’s duties to ensure privacy

If they fail to send you a notice regarding these details, you should ask for it. 

Patient’s Right To Access Information

As a patient, you can request PHI access within 30 days. Suppose your provider stores it in electronic format, and you ask for it in another electronic file type. In that case, a CE must provide it in the manner requested by you, as long as it’s readily producible.

Notice of CE Disclosures

Though most patients are unaware, you can access a list of your healthcare provider’s PHI disclosures to an outside entity, which encompasses:

  • Names of the person or entity with whom your provider shared PHI 
  • Date of exposure
  • Description of the PHI accessed
  • Reasons for record sharing

Should you be curious about sharing your personal information, you can request access to all disclosures. 

Right To Amend and Restrict Records 

Under HIPPA rules, you can ask your practice to amend their PHI in a designated record set. Before April 2003, this law limited patient PHI access to those only treated at healthcare organizations operated by the federal government. A CE must act on that request for amendment within no later than 60 days.

You also have the right to ask that your healthcare practice restrict:

  • Uses and distribution of PHI information involving treatment, payment, and operations
  • Sharing with persons involved in your health care or payments
  • Notifications to family or others about your general health condition, location, or death

Confidential Communication

Healthcare facilities must accommodate your requests to receive communication. Namely, they must comply if you ask them to leave appointment-related information on your cellphone’s voicemail instead of your home phone.

To find a more detailed list of your patient rights and responsibilities, visit UNC Heath.

How To Keep Your Private Information Safe

  • Be aware of where you share your personal information!

When posting about your health status or treatment details on Facebook, you must understand that they are likely not operating under HIPPA. The general rule is to stop revealing what you don’t want to be made public online

  • Password Encrypt Home Records

Just like doctor’s offices use special tools to guard your data, you can do the same. You can even password-protect any information stored on your PC. If you share these documents via email, you can require a password for access. This simple change will stop your identity from being stolen.

  • Verify Your Sources

It is necessary to verify any sources that the organization or practice you are corresponding with is legitimate by checking them online. Doing so prevents you from sharing your data with hackers who can use your records for prescription drugs, treatments, or surgery.

To safeguard your PHI, shred your:

  • Insurance forms
  • Prescriptions
  • Physician statements
  • Payment records
  • Report Any Errors

If you suspect record theft, you can get the most recent copy of your medical records and check them for errors (i.e., services you didn’t receive or payments you didn’t authorize). Then, please report unapproved changes to your healthcare provider. With evidence of identity theft, check your credit report for foreign charges and freeze the card to block unauthorized payments in the future. 

Healthcare Data Security Starts With Care

At My Healthcare Direct, we are an independent healthcare insurance agency. Our team of experienced professionals prioritizes your privacy and safety. With an in-depth knowledge of the healthcare industry, we will inform you about your rights and provide additional tips for navigating your healthcare needs. More so, we will give you tips to maximize your data security. 

My Healthcare Direct proactively serves our clients with the following:

  • Knowledge of the insurance industry
  • Policy options
  • Products
  • Supplemental plans
  • Pricing information for all policies
  • Life insurance policies

Contact us today to speak with an insurance agent!

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