Thursday, October 15, 2009

Angry Patients

So, I learned something today:

Irate patients in offices won't always shut up for the office staff, but if a bystander says, "hey, dude, they're right," they'll shut their traps.

The scenario: Trying to check my husband in at his doctor's appointment, working with one of three receptionists in the office. A man next to me, working with a different receptionist, is getting louder and angrier by the second about having to sign a medical release to get access to his own medical records. "I can't just give them to you, you have to sign for them. They belong to the doctor," the receptionist explains.

"Are you trying to tell me that MY medical records belong to someone else?"

"Yes, the doctor owns them."

"He owns MY medical records?"

"Yes."

"I can do anything I want with my own records!"

"You have to sign a release to get them because they belong to the doctor according to law."

At this point, a nosy medical transcriptionist [myself] said, "She's right. Once you have them in your hands, you can do anything you want with them. But you have to sign a release to get them, because, according to federal law, they do belong to the doctor. I work with medical records."

He muttered in my general direction, "According to federal law, they don't." BUT he shut up and left the building. After handing her the signed release. I finished signing my paperwork and sat down.

FACT: The information in a patient's medical records does, in fact, belong to the patient.
FACT: The physical form (paper, electronic, voice recording) of that information does, in fact, belong to whoever is responsible for maintaining that record. Doctors pay people like me to keep those records accurate and updated, so you bet your butt those physical records belong to the doctors.
FACT: HIPAA is a federal law requiring written permission from the patient before any information on that physical form can enter anyone else's hands or brains (aside from the doctor, office staff, whoever they hire to do their records, like me), *including* the patient. The office staff cannot photocopy or fax any information to any entity without that signed release, *including* the patient. It is supposed to protect patient confidentiality.

My husband told me as soon as I sat down that I shouldn't have butted in. But when I went to check out, the receptionist with whom he'd been dealing thanked me profusely for helping out. I didn't know how finely the hair is split between the ownership of the physical form of the records and the information they contain. But I did know that bit about HIPAA. I just said, "I figured if someone else backed you up, he'd shut up. And he did." She laughed.

I'm sure they've had irate patients before. After all, they sit behind full length walls with bulletproof windows in them.

1 comment:

oh just ehu. said...

Way to go, you! Way to help someone out! That's really good to know. Thanks for the post! '

(Your husband's reaction reminds me A LOT of my Tongan father & brother :] )