The establishment of the HIPAA Privacy Rule was a critical step in regards to the confidentiality of patients’ records and limiting unapproved access to these records. Intertwined with regulations that limit access to personal health information are provisions, which allow patients or their designated representatives to access their records. Many people assume that their healthcare records are fully open to them and copies can be obtained at any time. There is the general belief in this country that documents and records, which individuals consider to be personal and private, are not made available to others without the express permission of the person. It is often taken for granted that such documents fall under the overarching protection and rights provided to individuals in this country. Many have aligned this belief with such inalienable rights as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Access to personal health care information also contributes to the protection of privacy through regular monitoring. Many people review their health care records only when they need to use them for a specific purpose such as school entry or to check the dates that certain vaccines were received to determine if boosters may be needed. However, it is important to review records regularly in order to make sure they are accurate and to have anything there may be questions about clarified and, if necessary altered, in a timely fashion. Inaccurate or unclear health related information can create difficulties when people are unaware of such occurrences for example when applying for health insurance or jobs where specific types of physical activities are required.
Regular review of health records also has been shown to increase the individual’s participation in their health care, compliance with medical regimens and better patient-doctor relationships. However, many people aren’t aware of their rights to obtain, review and request changes to their health care information. It is important for health care providers to not only review HIPAA privacy rules with their patient but to make sure patients are aware of their right to access their health records, medical tests and lab results. Additionally, patients today have high expectations regarding responsiveness of health care requests, so software solutions used for HIPAA compliance should include functions with permit quick and easy access to EHR’s. Software solutions should also be regularly audited to ensure that information that can be externally accessed by patients is protected and secured the same way as information accessed through internal portals. Patients should be provided with instructions for securely accessing their health records.