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Shooting from the HIP(AA): Obtaining Health Care Records

Jul 9, 2013


Periodically we receive questions from companies seeking to obtain the health records of an individual.  There are a variety of reasons such activities might occur.  For example, the company may provide a service in which it assists its clients in resolving matters with insurance companies.  Or, perhaps the company may wish to provide a service to its own personnel by having their human resource staff file insurance claims or deal with the claims payer on behalf of the employees.

In the examples described above, the protections for privacy of health records come into play as provided by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act commonly known as HIPAA.   Under HIPAA, the entities charged with maintaining the privacy of an individual’s health records are “covered entities” and may include a hospital, doctor, pharmacy, insurer, claims payer, or an employer’s health plan.

Although the covered entity should be requiring the proper authorization before it releases health records not all covered entities are as careful as they should be.  At the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) website on health information privacy, several examples include a covered entity incorrectly releasing records to an employer which later generated a complaint to HHS.

While most of the liability for improper release of health records will lie with the covered entity, the use of an authorization form that complies with HIPAA will ensure minimal issues, if any, as to the privacy and release of records.  And the HIPAA regulations do change over time, so be sure your authorization form complies with the latest regulations.  HHS offers quite a bit of information at their website, and their page on “Authorization Use and Disclosure FAQs” is particularly helpful and can be found at:  www.hhs.gov/hipaafaq/use.

Terri O’Connell, Counsel at Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel LLP, concentrates her practice in the area of health care law.

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