Patient Privacy in HealthcareIn the digital age, ensuring the security, privacy, and protection of a patient’s healthcare data is not easy. Patient privacy is not merely a legal obligation of a healthcare organization but a fundamental right of the patient to keep his health-related information confidential. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), was enacted into federal law to ensure the privacy and security of patients’ medical data. Compliance with HIPAA’s rules is mandatory, but it’s equally essential for healthcare providers to implement robust strategies to maintain data privacy.

This blog helps healthcare providers understand the significance of patient privacy in Healthcare. It also highlights the practical strategies to safeguard confidentiality and privacy.

What is Patient Privacy?

Patient privacy is the right of individuals to keep their health information confidential. It concerns the security of personal data, such as medical history and treatment alternatives, from being viewed or revealed without authorization. To put it simply, it means that the test results, diagnoses, and other information regarding a person’s health remain private.

Patient privacy is a core concept in the healthcare industry. It is a practice that entails respecting individuals’ autonomy with confidentiality and maintaining their personal health information. This is not only a good practice; it’s also one of our legal and ethical obligations.

Do You Know?

The AMA’s Privacy Principles outline five key aspects of a national privacy framework—individual rights, equity, entity responsibility, applicability and enforcement.

 

Privacy Vs. Confidentiality

 

Aspects Privacy Confidentiality
Definition The wider right of patients to restrict access to their health information. Confidentiality of patient Information, which is the responsibility of healthcare providers.
Focus Empower people to decide who can check or have access to their health records. It deals with the responsibility of healthcare providers to protect and maintain the confidentiality of information about a patient’s health.
Role It refers to patients governing their health data. It includes the confidentiality of information related to health that healthcare providers undertake.
Trust Building Trust is developed by allowing patients to decide what is done with their health data. The fact that both healthcare providers and patients trust one another underscores the importance of this support.

 

Significance of Patient Privacy in Healthcare

Privacy of Patient’s health information is of paramount importance for various reasons. 

 

  • To begin with, trust is the basis of any successful doctor-patient connection. Patients know that their personal health information will be kept confidential. This trust reciprocally fosters honesty and reliability on behalf of the patients. Thus allowing them to provide accurate information about their health.
  • Secondly, patient privacy needs to be prioritized due to ethical concerns.Respecting an individual’s right to privacy aligns with the ethical principles of autonomy and dignity. 
  • Additionally, ensuring patient privacy is not only a matter of good practice; it constitutes legal responsibility. Laws and regulations such as  HIPAA in the US, mandate that the patient information is protected. Healthcare providers may face legal actions in case of non-compliance with HIPAA guidelines.
  • Protecting patient confidentiality is also critical to preventing medical identity fraud. Identity theft can occur due to unauthorized access to a person’s personal health information.This may lead to financial losses besides compromising the medical records, which in turn harms the individual.

Also Read: 8 Essential KPIs to Monitor in Healthcare Revenue Cycle

 

What is Identity Theft?

Medical identity theft refers to malpractice where an individual’s personal health information is stolen and used without his or her permission. This type of identity theft occurs when an individual uses, gains unauthorized access to, or even acquires details about their medical history and state without their permission.

In other words, it is as if someone pretends to be you in order to get medical treatment or prescription drugs. They can also submit false insurance claims. The impact of medical identity theft can be devastating because it could lead to financial losses, credit score impairment, and possible harm to the victim’s health.

Do You Know?

In July 2014, UCLA Health suffered a data breach affecting 4.5 million patients. UCLA faced a $7.5 million fine for not reporting the breach on time.

6 Best Ways of Maintaining Patient Confidentiality and Privacy

 

Following are some of the practical approaches to safeguard confidentiality and privacy of patients.

 

Understanding the Laws and Confidentiality Agreements

One of the first measures to protect the confidentiality and privacy of patients is familiarization with the relevant legislation and regulations governing your practice. For instance, in the US, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) defines the standards of privacy and security for protecting patients’ health information. The laws of other countries may be the same or different from the ones you have to obey. 

You should also know the policies and procedures of your organization and the particular sites of practice where you work, such as hospitals, clinics, or home care.

Obtain Informed Consent and Authorization

Another essential practice is to get informed consent and authorization from your patients before you access, use, and disclose their information for any reason. So, informed consent in this case means you must inform your patients of the information that you require, the purpose of it, how you will use it and whom you will share it with. 

You should also make them aware about their rights to get access and correction or restriction of their information. Patients also have the ability to cancel the authorization or the consent at any stage of the billing process. 

 

Limit access and disclosure

Another approach is to restrict patient data access and release to what is necessary for fulfilling your objectives. Therefore, you should only use or distribute the information that is essential and appropriate to your job duties. You should also not reveal patient information to the wrong people, like family members, friends, the media, or employers, without consent from the patient, unless there is an ethical or legal requirement in any case.

 

Use Secure Methods and Devices

 In order to protect patients’ information, healthcare providers must apply secure methods and devices. This refers to the use of encrypted software and secure communication networks. In doing so, they guarantee that patient information remains confidential and free from any illicit exposure. Furthermore, using password protection and a firewall are additional security measures. This is very important for patient trust and also for legal necessities.

Educate yourself and others

Healthcare professionals need to get training on how to keep the patient’s data confidential. This involves tracking the relevant laws and regulations in addition to participating in workshops covering best practices when handling confidential information. Through the sharing of knowledge and resources among colleagues, providers can guarantee that all staff in a healthcare organization follow the same idea of preserving patient privacy. 

Respect Patient Preferences and Diversity

Healthcare professionals should respect patient preferences and diversity by acknowledging that every person is special. This entails a deep appreciation of varying cultural backgrounds, languages, and communication methods. Providers, in this way, make patients feel respected and involved by providing a friendly environment that is liberating to them. Basically, appreciating the diversity of patients leads to improved patient-provider relationships and better health outcomes.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, patient privacy in healthcare is not merely a legal obligation but the moral responsibility of a healthcare provider. However, by prioritizing the issue of data breaches and implementing robust strategies, he can develop trust and confidence among his patients.

Outsourcing to a reputable medical billing company like Medheave is a strategic solution for healthcare organizations that are unable to maintain patient privacy. We prioritize patient confidentiality and data security. Sign up today with the company and ensure data security at every step of the medical billing process.

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