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CEO: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

September 28, 2022

Scott Thoreson, CCMH Chief Executive Officer

by Scott Thoreson, CCMH Chief Executive Officer

From time to time a federal law gets passed that has a profound and lasting impact on healthcare, and this month I’d like to address the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or more commonly referred to as HIPAA. This legislation had several main purposes: eliminate “job-lock” due to pre-existing medical conditions (the “portability” feature); reduce healthcare fraud and abuse; enforce standards for health information; and Guarantee security and privacy of health information. This article will address the last element of this legislation.

Most people who have interacted with the healthcare system have heard of HIPAA and to them it means privacy. Many times, it translates into frustration when we have to ask extra questions to verify your identity or obtain consent from a family member whenever you want to access billing or medical records. It might mean a person needs to complete a form that lists you as an individual to whom information may be shared or it might mean the person has to join you on the call when addressing a question with a healthcare representative.

I have been a hospital administrator of rural hospitals for over 20 years and I can’t even remember the number of times individuals make assumptions about what I might know about their personal health or who I might share information with. A couple of examples: My wife was a friend of a woman who was hospitalized and I happened to come across her in the hallway one day. We shared some small talk and she was eventually discharged a few days later. I came to find out that my wife and this woman saw each other sometime after she was discharged and the woman was surprised that my wife didn’t know she was in the hospital. I did not tell my wife that this woman was in the hospital, nor did the woman ask me to tell my wife that she wanted her to know so she could come and visit her. My other example relates to a conversation I had with a person who I knew that was standing by the nurses’ station. Without knowing why he was there, I asked him how he was doing and he proceeded to give me the medical update on a family member who was hospitalized. I listened politely and engaged in a bit of small talk wishing the family well and departed. However, it is a common misperception that the hospital administrator knows everyone who is in the hospital, particularly in a small hospital, and that they know the reason for the hospitalization and their current status.

It is the time of year when students head out to college or other post-secondary education for the first time. I was listening to a podcast recently that talked about the importance of completing certain documents to enable parents access to their children’s health records and to be able to make decisions on these new adults, now being 18 years of age or older. There were three documents mentioned: A durable power of attorney that will allow those so listed to make non-healthcare related decisions on behalf of someone who is not able to; healthcare power of attorney (sometimes referred to as a health care proxy with the document being an advance directive) that allows the listed person(s) to make healthcare-related decisions on their behalf if the person is not able to on their own; and HIPAA authorization, which enables parents or others listed to access health care records. Attorneys have the ability to help with these documents and some of these documents are also available via the post-secondary schools or health care facilities.

I hope this article has provided a bit more of an insight about HIPAA and why we are always asking you as patients about who you want to allow access to your healthcare information. I would also encourage you that have students at college or young adults that have not completed an advance directive and HIPAA form to do so in the event it may be required in the future. If you have a certain topic you would like us to discuss, please reach out to us at I wish you good health!

More in this Series:

CEO: Holiday Message (Published December 20, 2021)

CEO: Different Types of Hospital Ownership (Published February 1, 2022)

CEO: A Hospital is Still a Business (Published March 16, 2022)

CEO: Why Healthcare is Expensive (Published May 4, 2022)

CEO: National Hospital Week (Published May 11, 2022)

CEO: Social Determinants of Health (Published June 29, 2022)

CEO: Financial Assistance (Published July 20, 2022)

CEO: CCMH Providers (Published August 24, 2022)