Incidental disclosures form the crux of HIPAA compliance and patient care. HIPAA has elaborate rules on how to maintain these and in what situations.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a landmark set of federal regulations, is aimed at protecting patient privacy regulations. Yet, it is understood that some information has to necessarily be shared. HIPAA compliance and patient care is centered on the inevitable disclosures that have to be made, or what are called incidental disclosures. Initially, there was some ambiguity about incidental disclosures, resulting in some kind of haziness about HIPAA compliance and patient care. With these cleared, much of HIPAA compliance and patient care hinges on this principle.
Incidental disclosures determine patient care compliance with HIPAA
Incidental disclosures are what are termed secondary use, i.e., it is the unavoidable or inevitable disclosure of Protected Health Information. It is understood that incidental disclosures, being a byproduct of the course or nature of the treatment; are inescapable, given the condition and situation of the patient.
Guiding factors for HIPAA compliance with patient care
The aim of HIPAA's Privacy Rule is to ensure that healthcare providers have to use professional judgment guided by ethical guidelines at the time of making incidental disclosures. The following bases were propounded for adherence with HIPAA compliance and patient care:
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- Whenever there is an unavoidable breach in confidentiality, the breach should be proportionate to the potential benefit the patient's gets from care
- When a patient is not present in the healthcare setting or is incapacitated, information about the patient can be shared with the family, friends or whoever else is involved in the patient's care. This protocol need not be documented.
- In relation to the above, a requirement of HIPAA compliance for patient care is that when the patient has a condition that is not related to the present treatment, such information should be withheld
- However, the healthcare provider can discuss the patient's condition with family or friends over phone or through an interpreter. The patient's health reports such as blood tests or X-ray or prescriptions can be issued to a person known or related to the patient if it is in the best interests of the patient
- Healthcare professionals in charge of the patient should ask the patient which individuals she wants present in the room during treatment/examination. This has to be strictly adhered to, and anyone that the patient does not want present should be sent out
- The professional's best judgment has to be used when treating the patient in an emergency room, ensuring the maximum privacy to the best extent possible
- Even while sending out appointment reminders or phone calls to the patients; HIPAA compliance and patient care requires that the patient's privacy should not be put at risk inadvertently
- The healthcare professional should avoid patient sign logs or calling out the patient's name in the waiting area. Posting patient schedules, in which the patient is named, should be avoided.
- When consultation or help is required from another specialist about a patient's condition or ailment, the physician can do so without obtaining patient authorization specific to this request.
- Yet, if a physician, who is not directly involved with the patient, has to be consulted, privacy of the patient name has to be preserved as part of HIPAA compliance and patient care. Identifiers can be used in such situations.