Healthcare and wellness application development is not a piece of cake, while we all may have our 2 cents on what we can include and exclude within the app, and what’s “trending”, there is compliance to follow. While regular app development has a strict rule book to follow, so does application development within the healthcare industry. And that cannot go by without the uber-strict HIPAA laws that are the epitome of debunking common HIPAA misconceptions that arise due to sheer negligence. 

If you’re a newbie and wondering what HIPAA stands for its Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. A federal law in the United States that has set a national standard for patient data protection and privacy of their sensitive medical health information and records. It’s an essential factor within healthcare and medicine that helps regulate laws, ensure compliance within legal jurisdictions, and protect patients’ privacy and rights, while also maintaining & improving the quality of healthcare provided.

HIPAA is strictly an American federal law, but every region practices a similar route with its own laws and regulations. The European Union follows General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), while there are other globally known guidelines from International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27799 that focus on information security management in healthcare. 

With that being said, it’s essential to be aware of all the rights patients have while getting any sort of medical treatment. In the era of fast information and the internet, it is common to come across various HIPAA misconceptions that can start a chain reaction of misguided information. And we’re precisely here to help you debunk all of the top myths that we’ve heard over the course of years. 

Myth #1: HIPAA does not apply to all healthcare providers

FACT: HIPAA applies to any and all healthcare providers who transmit, store, or handle protected health information.

HIPAA doesn’t pick and choose any healthcare facility or provider for compliance, they apply to all healthcare entities and facilities. If your system in any way handles Protected Health Information (PHI), then you are bound to be subjected to HIPAA regulations. The PHI includes any patient’s name, address, social security number, etc. 

If the healthcare system uses a third-party or cloud-based provider to store or transfer information, that too must be an active follower of HIPAA law. In case of a data breach within a non-HIPAA-compliant server, be prepared for the consequences that will follow in the form of lawsuits and litigations.

Myth #2: HIPAA privacy rules are strictly for electronic records

FACT: HIPAA covers all patient records, regardless of their nature.

Medical records and patient records are still records that can be accessed, stored, stolen, or breached, regardless of their nature. HIPAA indeed prohibits you from disclosing PHI in electronic communications, but the same rules and regulations are applied to paper-based records and files too. 

Despite the difference in mediums, patient data is still patient data that can be transmitted, putting it at high risk of a breach if no privacy rules are applied. Your facility still has to adhere to HIPAA compliance and the privacy rules that come along with it. Also, who deals in paper-based health records now anyways? 

Myth #3: HIPAA strictly prohibits email correspondence between doctors and patients

FACT: The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows providers to use many different means of communication, up to and including emails.

While HIPAA pays close attention to doctor-patient confidentiality, this doesn’t affect their mode of communication to be diverse. As long as high-grade encryption and security are practiced, especially while transferring medical reports and data, email is a safe mode of communication. 

Emails are otherwise a more genuine and responsible way to transfer and track data, as well as the history of the patient. But it is necessary to safeguard your email credentials and the systems you log into. 

Myth #4: Employers can get access to employee’s healthcare information

FACT: HIPAA prohibits healthcare providers from disclosing personal health information to employers without patients’ consent.

Employers are never allowed to access the healthcare information of their employees regardless of whether they are on the company’s health insurance or not. Healthcare providers are also not allowed to share any information based on an employee’s health until and unless explicit written permission is granted. 

Meanwhile, any other mental health surveys conducted by HR do not come under any HIPAA laws or compliances as well. 

Myth #5: Patients can sue their healthcare providers for violating HIPAA

FACT: Even in case of a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, patients cannot sue healthcare providers.

One of the very common misconceptions about HIPAA is that it takes private patient-doctor lawsuits into action and consideration. While a patient can easily report or file a complaint against their healthcare provider, it never goes up in court straight away. 

A healthcare provider’s lack of HIPAA compliance or privacy regulations that a patient reports are submitted for investigation first. If there are any reasonable grounds for conviction, the Secretary of Health and Human Services does so at their own discretion. 

So, if next time a Karen tries to threaten your healthcare practice with a lawsuit, ensure that they won’t be able to do anything, apart from submitting a written complaint. The real court of HIPAA law is under the Secretary of Health and Human Services only, which will impose penalties and criminal sanctions if negligence is proven upon investigation.

Myth #6: A doctor cannot share medical records with another doctor

FACT: A doctor can send medical records to another doctor without your explicit consent.

It is normal for doctors within the same vicinity to share and discuss various cases of various patients, and get insights and possible new diagnoses and treatment plans. Hence, it is allowed for doctors to share the medical records of their patients for as long as it is in the patient’s best interest. 

It is also stated within the privacy rules of HIPAA that for the purpose of treatment, payment, or other vital healthcare operations, information can be shared without the patient’s consent. With that being said, healthcare providers can also share information with family members who are listed by the patient, and for payment purposes as well. 

Myth #7: It’s your right to have unrestricted access to your medical information

FACT: It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Since it’s your healthcare records, you have a right to access ALL the information listed within a hospital’s records, right? Wrong. 

While you can request the information, you are not entitled to it, and hospitals can deny that request if it can harm your well-being. These cases are strictly linked to mental health or psychiatric patients and cases where the patient is at risk of harm if certain information regarding their health is disclosed. 

Apart from that, you can obtain all the necessary reports and records easily by following the right steps to acquire them. 

Myth #8: HIPAA prohibits calling out patients’ names

FACT: The Privacy Rule explicitly permits certain incidental disclosures that occur as a by-product of an otherwise permitted disclosure

One of the most common HIPAA misconceptions is that you are not allowed to mention or call out the name of the patient in the hospital. While discretion is still advised when catering to other patients, it is not against HIPAA laws or anything of the sort. 

Safeguarding identity and treatment confidentiality is a must, especially in cases that involve mental health and fertility. While calling out a patient’s name is not an objectionable act, it is advised to keep the purpose of the visit and treatment private.

Final Thoughts

It’s always encouraged for everyone to do their research when it comes to understanding HIPAA laws, especially if you have a deeper link within the healthcare industry, as a healthcare provider, patient, or healthcare application developer. These HIPAA misconceptions are nothing that can’t be solved with a little Google search or basic common sense. While it is also important to be aware of the rights that the state provides every individual in healthcare.