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What Is Patient Privacy?

In the medical and mental health professions, patient privacy is usually referred to as the doctor-patient privilege.
Under HIPAA, medical providers are expected to keep patient information and records confidential.
Article Details
  • Written By: Jill Gonzalez
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The term patient privacy usually refers to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which was created by the Office for Civil Rights, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Privacy Rule was created in an effort to protect the private medical information of U.S. citizens. It sets national standards that all medical personnel are supposed to abide by, in order to protect written and electronic health information. No American medical offices or organizations are exempt from this federal regulation.

Some Americans use the term 'HIPAA' when referring to patient privacy. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1996. This legislation is designed to ensure that the health information of all patients is protected during all types of healthcare activities. This includes hospital and doctor visits, as well as prescription drug and supply purchases.

In order to comply with all of the patient privacy regulations, healthcare providers are required, by law, to use codes when transmitting sensitive financial information that is related to healthcare services. Protected information is not limited to current, ongoing medical care, however. It also includes all past health care procedures or purchases, as well as anything that may apply in the future. By enacting this type of legislation, the American government sought to safeguard the privacy of its citizens, which may prevent people from forms of discrimination.

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If patients choose to waive their right to patient privacy at any time, for any specific healthcare related incident, they must do so in writing. Some healthcare facilities will accept electronic signatures for this requirement, while others insist on a handwritten, printed copy for their files. Many doctor's offices and hospitals ask patients to sign a notice of patient privacy for their files. These notices are simply indicators that a patient has read and understands their right to have their healthcare information kept confidential.

For the most part, medical offices and pharmacies will have personnel on hand to further explain the details of patient privacy. This can be extremely beneficial for individuals who have questions or concerns regarding how this applies to them. When patients are in doubt about their privacy rights, they are encouraged to ask questions. People are generally asked to tolerate all of the paperwork involved in protecting their privacy, as it is considered to be a necessary, though time consuming, part of the whole process.

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