Friday, July 17, 2015

Headlines Teach HIPAA Lesson

News or Violation?
Last week the sports world was shocked when a rising National Football League star suffered a tragic accident.

While celebrating the 4th of July holiday, New York Giants phenom Jason Pierre-Paul lost a finger in an accident involving fireworks. It was a tragic event that now clouds the future for the player.

HIPAA ViolationSoon thereafter, news of the mishap broke and specifics of the injury were released to the news media. It was reported that Pierre-Paul’s injury caused a total resection of one of his fingers causing the finger to be lost down to and including the knuckle.

The reports caused an immediate outcry sparking a Federal investigation into the source of the release of this information.

But, who released the information about the injury? Was this news?

News yes, but what about the release?

In short, did the release of the details of the injury by someone on the inside at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami constitute a HIPAA violation?

Unauthorized
Hospital officials scrambled to put a positive spin on the release of the information, but slice it any way the fact remained that an unauthorized release of Personal Health Information (PHI) had occurred.

When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act first came into existence, little could any of us have known how far reaching and important the Federal regulation would become. In an era of openness ushered in by the digital age, the protection of people’s most intimate information and details of the most personal details of their physical life has risen to become one of the most guarded of information sets.

When, in an instant, persons can share information about their neighbor that will race around the world the protection of the release of a person’s health-related information has growingly become an important right and privilege of all Americans and that right and privilege is protected under Federal law affixing penalties when the trust has been violated.

EMS Must Use Caution
Emergency Medical Services, by definition, operates within a fluid and dynamic environment that is visible to the naked eye. The arena we operate in, in the field, is wide open and easily shared outside of institutional control.

The Pierre-Paul debacle of barely a week-and-a-half ago serves as an important reminder to all of us who are EMS providers.

We must use caution!

While we may have the best intentions and mean no harm, sharing and releasing sensitive details (and pictures too) about a person’s health-related details has the power to cause irreparable damage to the person who’s information has been released.

Common Sense
One of the first instructions we received from an EMS mentor nearly thirty years ago upon signing-on to become a provider was this…

“What goes on here, stays here!”

Short, sweet and to the point. It meant that when we finished with an EMS run, the information about that run, concerning the patient just treated, never was to leave the confines of the EMS station.

This was long before anyone could have imagined there would be something known as HIPAA. But, even without a Federal mandate it boiled down to common sense. It wasn’t moral to talk about someone else’s illness or tragic illness. Period.

But, then again at that point in modern history, there wasn’t the speed of the internet. There wasn’t the immediacy of social media. Digital communications were still very much in their infancy and no one could have imagined the sheer speed with which information would eventually travel the world over.

Privacy
But, still, there was a respect for people’s privacy minus Big Brother Government’s mandate.

EMS providers must grasp that it’s not about us. This thing that we do is all about them- the patients. We owe our patients privacy protection at the highest levels.

There should be no compromise.

So, while you may share the awesomeness of this thing we do; always be mindful of the privacy of the patients you serve. Your responsibility as an EMS provider must always have the patient’s best interest at heart and that includes protecting every single detail of your EMS incident by keeping those details confidential.

Allow this recent news event to serve as a reminder to all of us in in EMS that we have a high responsibility to obey the law of the land and protect all of our patients’ Personal Health Information with no exception.

The Ambulance Billing Services blog is brought to you by Enhanced Management Services, Inc. Enhanced Management Services, Inc. serves Fire/EMS agencies across the United States as a third-party ambulance billing contractor. To learn more about the services we provide and how your EMS agency can become a client, you can visit our website at www.enhancedms.com and click on the “Get Started” link on any landing page.
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