You may have noticed that when you go to your doctor’s office, to the hospital or a clinic, not only do the healthcare providers ask you for personal health information, such as your medical or family history, but they also record a lot of information about you. Although the physical or electronic medical records maintained by your doctor or hospital belongs to them, the content in these records belongs to YOU. This is why you should know what your rights are to get copies of your records and know what is in them, as well as, who can access your records.
What is “Protected Health Information”?
Protected health information, according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), is information about your health that can be linked to you. Some of the ways your health information can be identified and linked to you include your name, social security number, address, and birth date.
This information can include:
- Your past, present or future health or condition
- Health or medical care provided to you
- The past, present, or future payment for this health or medical care
HIPAA outlines what your rights and healthcare workers’ accountability and responsibility is regarding your personal, protected health information.
Your Rights Regarding Your Personal Health Information
In the United States you have the right to get a copy of your medical records. This is important to know, especially if you go to different healthcare providers, such as from a primary doctor to a specialist, or if you are traveling, and even if you are admitted to a hospital where you have not been before. It’s also good to understand what is in your medical record so that you can build out your personal health information, including historical information, as well as the conditions or illnesses you currently have and what you are being treated for.
Once you have gotten and you know what information is in your medical records you can:
- Make sure it is correct and complete
- Know what is being released when you authorize disclosure of information to others
- Provide an accurate health history to all members of the healthcare team who treat you
Your Healthcare Team’s Responsibilities
Your healthcare team has a responsibility to keep your health information private. It is your responsibility to let them know who you feel should be able to access your personal health information so they know when, where, and how this information can be accessed and by whom. There are areas where your personal health information does not require your approval to release it, such as for payment purposes or when you are receiving care.
Knowing your rights about your personal, private health information is important so that you can feel comfortable with the medical care you receive. Please make sure you get copies of your medical records and let your healthcare team know who can access them. And, don’t be afraid to share your information with those you trust, such as with a new doctor or healthcare provider so that you can get the best possible medical care. By sharing your information you can also contribute to important medical research that improves healthcare for you and for everyone.
To learn more, please visit the AHIMA Consumer Health Information Bill of Rights.
Vera Rulon, MS, RHIT, was the Director of Strategic Communications within Pfizer Medical.