A HIPAA waiver is a legal document in the United States that allows doctors to communicate with specifically named individuals about someone's health history and current health situation. Without such authorization, doctors are legally barred from discussing anything about a patient with third parties, including family members. Such forms are necessary in a variety of settings and patients can control how much information will be released and who will be able to access health information.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), passed in 1996, includes a number of measures designed to protect patient privacy. Legislators were concerned about the increasing digitization of medical records and the potential for vulnerabilities such as the potential to transmit medical records to a third party without a patient's consent. HIPAA contains very strict rules designed to protect patient privacy and to allow patients to control how and when information about them is released.
One situation where a HIPAA waiver might be needed is when someone retains an attorney to assist with a problem related to medical care. Legally, the attorney cannot access the patient's records without a waiver granting the attorney permission to review the records. Patients can grant a full waiver, allowing for complete access, or a partial waiver, limiting access to a partial review only.
Waivers are also used to allow health care proxies to discuss someone's medical condition with doctors. Without the waiver, the proxy would not be allowed to discuss the prognosis or to get other information about the patient's condition, making it very challenging to make decisions. HIPAA waivers are often recommended to people as a part of estate planning and planning for a proxy, to be prepared in the event of incapacitation.
Another situation where a HIPAA waiver is needed is when medical records are released to a new physician, with patients being asked to sign a medical records request to indicate their consent for release of the records. Likewise, when people enroll in clinical trials and other medical studies, they must sign a HIPAA waiver to allow researchers to access their medical records. If participants are not willing to sign the waiver, they may be dropped from the study, as researchers need to be able to evaluate the complete medical histories of their subjects.
Generic HIPAA waiver forms are available online. These forms include boxes people can check to indicate the kind of information to be released, along with blanks for names of the people who are authorized to access medical records.