As every healthcare provider knows, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is designed to protect a patient’s health information. Healthcare organizations have many processes and procedures in place to do this.
But no matter how extensive the precautions, problems can arise through human error, through carelessness and a lack of attention.
For example, problems can arise in a pharmacy when filling prescriptions for two patients with the same name. This is a situation that is fertile ground for error. It sometimes happens that when the pharmacist is in a hurry, they may give the medication to the wrong person, which also releases protected health information to people unauthorized to see it.
Pharmacists have checklists set up to avoid this type of situation, but the checklists are effective only if followed.
Another situation that can lead to HIPAA problems occurs when a pharmacist types the wrong prescriber on a prescription label. The chances of this type of thing happening are even greater when there is more than one prescriber with the same name in the database.
A HIPAA infraction can occur when the pharmacist or the patient’s health plan contacts the wrong physician about the patient’s medication, and the patient’s information is sent.
Again, pharmacists have checklists in place for this scenario, but they need to be followed.
Other problems can occur when healthcare organizations are lax in setting up the proper procedures to safeguard health information. For example, a pharmacy chain was cited for HIPAA violations when staff at some of the locations were getting rid of patient information by putting it in waste bins outside the store, receptacles that could be accessed by anyone.
The drug chain neglected to put proper procedures in place for the disposal of the information and also did not train staff in how to properly dispose of it, problems that are more common than they should be.
Another problem arises when healthcare providers do not clearly understand the HIPAA regulations and, wary of improperly sharing the information, are reluctant to share it with those who are authorized to see it. The law allows a patient’s information to be disclosed to anyone involved in the treatment of the patient, for billing purposes, and for healthcare operations.
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