Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Is Using One's Full Name Against HIPPAA laws?

My opinion:  As the article below states, it is not illegal to use one's full name in the medical setting, although there certainly may be severe consequences. I guess this is one of the reasons why HIPPAA laws keep becoming stricter.  When I volunteer in the hospital, people are not allowed to talk about patients in public settings, even if is between two doctors - if it is an emergency, though, I believe they may whisper to each other so no one else can hear, and quickly move to an employees only area.  Though these discussions are often in depth, it is now clear that doing something as simple as saying a name could put one's privacy in danger.  Whenever I go to the doctor's office, they always call the patients up by first names only.  But if the name is really common, there may be multiple people with the same first name.  Perhaps the medical staff could call people out by their first names and last name initial, to be as specific and confidential as possible.  On a related note, I don't think I ever fully understood the consequences of releasing private information.  Apparently, insurance companies may raise rates for certain races that are likely to have a genetic defect.  Are there any worse consequences by releasing information?  And just how strict should these confidentiality laws be?  Feel free to comment.

Alex (not his real name) is a 27-year-old male living with HIV. Since his diagnosis he has faced bouts of severe depression. Over time he has come to terms with his condition. Recently he called me to express his frustrations with the HIV clinic where he receives medical care. I was shocked and dismayed by the story he shared with me.
Alex went to see his physician in an HIV clinic operated by the University of California. This clinic provides medical care exclusively to patients with HIV and AIDS and apparently has a standard practice of calling patients to the exam room by their first and last names. On this visit another patient was able to look him up on Facebook in a matter of minutes while still in the waiting room. He quickly discovered where Alex worked and who his friends and family are. Then he did something very despicable: He solicited Alex for a sexual encounter, and when Alex refused, stating that he was in a committed relationship, the other patient threatened to tell everyone on his Facebook page about his HIV status.
Is it reasonable to assume that a patient in a medical clinic that only provides medical care to people with HIV is HIV-positive? Does using the patient's full name violate patient confidentiality and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPAA) of 1996? The answer may surprise you: No, it does not violate the current HIPPAA policy.


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