The Right to Privacy

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— In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

At the time, most of the publicity around the bill was its provision regarding "portability" of health insurance when an employee changed jobs.

Much less noted were the privacy regulations related to protecting personal health information from unauthorized disclosure.

The Act provided that if Congress did not take action to establish rules regarding patient privacy, the federal Department of Health and Human Services was to do so. Congress did not take action, so the Department of HHS wrote the regulations. The date for implementing these regulations was April 14, 2003. What we are now dealing with is hundreds of pages of new regulations that are extremely detailed and, in some cases, make providing good customer service more difficult.

Yampa Valley Medical Center has always been concerned with protecting personal health information from inappropriate disclosure. We have emphasized confidentiality with our employees in initial and ongoing education. We have never sold our patient lists or shared them with anyone outside the medical center. We have been careful not to discuss patient information with anyone we did not know and who did not have a legitimate need for the information. HIPAA takes these practices to a new level of detail.

These regulations have translated into new practices, procedures and 20 new policies at YVMC. Most of these policies relate to disclosure and protection of the personal health information contained in medical records that are maintained following patient care at the medical center. Some, however, will affect every patient, family member and friend of patients at YVMC.

We are required to ask more questions and present you with more forms during your registration about how you want us to use your health information. You will have an opportunity to receive a copy of our privacy practices. You will be asked if you want to be omitted from our patient directory.

If you choose to be omitted from our patient directory there will be no acknowledgement by YVMC staff that you are a patient. If calls come to us asking for your room, or to transfer a telephone call to you, we will respond by telling the caller that "We have no information" about you. We will not be able to deliver mail or accept flowers. If someone comes to visit you, we will not be able to give out your room number or direct visitors to you. Please think carefully if you choose this option.

We can continue to share your information with other health care providers and those outside agencies that assist us with delivering health care services to you. Your authorization is not required for us to share your information for "treatment, payment and hospital operations" as defined in the regulations. Our ability to provide staff and physicians with the information they need to care for you will not change.

These new regulations are affecting everyone in health care. All organizations, providers and related parties have to adjust how they have interacted with you, the patient. These changes are designed to be in the best interest of patients, but require much more diligence on our part. We must meet not only the intent of the new regulations, but also the detailed compliance criteria that are a result. We ask that you bear with us as we adjust to this new way of working with you.

Karl Gills is the chief

executive officer of Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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