It seems as though every time you step foot through the door of any medical facility or hospital you are immediately bombarded with paperwork. Check this box or that one, initial here and explain your whole health history there. Who has time to read through each paragraph and who really understands what they sign?
The truth is, not everyone knows what they are signing and more importantly, not everyone knows their rights. Some of your rights as a patient are federally mandated laws, while other rights are particular on a state level to Arizona.
What rights as a patient do I have that are federally mandated?
This is a great question! The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 otherwise commonly known as HIPPA is what keeps your medical information safe and secure.
By federal law, you have the right to have a copy of your medical records and they are to be kept private. The law here that comes to mind is the Privacy Rule. This federal rule protects your medical records and sets limits to who has access to them. There is also the Security Rule, and this protects your medical information electronically.
A few things to note about accessing your medical records:
- You cannot be denied access to your medical records because you have not paid your bill.
- However, you can be charged a reasonable for printing and mailing out your medical records.
- A healthcare provider can share your medical information with another provider as needed for treatment and with your permission.
- Psychotherapy notes that are taken during a conversation with a mental health provided are not required to be shared with you.
- If you believe a healthcare provider needs to make a correction to your medical record, you can request that it be amended.
In Arizona, you have the rights to your medical records by written request. Often times you can submit a release form, but the fastest way is to submit a request in writing.
There are some circumstances where your request can be denied. These include:
- Release of your medical records could threaten the life or physical safety of a patient or another person.
- The records contain information that was obtained under a promise of confidentiality with a person other than the healthcare provider.
- If your request is denied, the healthcare provider must give you a written statement regarding the denial and make a note in your medical record as well.
What rights do I have regarding my employer?
The Privacy Rule also has authority over how your medical information is shared with your employer. However, the Privacy Rule does not pertain at all to your employment records, even if those records contain your medical information. While employers can ask you for a doctor’s note due to an absence, they cannot directly ask your healthcare provider for further medical information.
Can I have a personal representative?
Yes, there are many cases where you can have a personal representative. This representative, appointed by you, can receive and review a copy of your protected health information.
Other scenarios where a personal representative is warranted is in the case of minors and deceased persons. Each scenario may be bound by legal proceedings.
Why do I have to sign the HIPPA form at the doctor’s office?
Your healthcare provider is required by law to inform you how your medical information will be shared. By signing this form, it does not mean that you are agreeing to any special uses or sharing of your medical records. If you choose to not sign this form, the healthcare provider must keep a record of your refusal.
What is in the notice?
The HIPPA notice you are signing in your doctor’s office describes the following:
- It must explain that you must provide permission for the provider to share your information.
- It states how your provider will use and disclose your medical information in accordance with the Privacy Rule.
- Their duty to protect your information.
- Your right to complain to HHS if you feel your rights have been violated.
- How to contact an organization to make a complaint.
Why is having access to my medical records important?
For some people, having access to their medical records may not seem important. It should be important to you and here is why:
- You want to verify that your medical record is complete and accurate. If something is wrong, you should seek a correction immediately.
- Control. You now have control over your health history and sharing it with your current doctor will make it easier and more efficient.
- Tracking your health is also important. You can follow your lab results, medication lists, referrals and ask better questions to make even better healthcare choices.
Your rights as a patient are important. You should know how your medical records and how to use them to your advantage. Whether the law is federally mandated or local to Arizona, knowing your rights will leave you less vulnerable.