You’re probably familiar with the doctor’s office clipboard of paperwork you must sign every time you go to a new practice. Although you might not have read the fine print, one of those pages was a HIPAA form. As with the many acronyms in healthcare, you may not know what HIPAA is or the protections afforded to you because of it.

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. At the time, the healthcare industry was moving away from paper processes to electronic systems. In order to safeguard people’s medical records, national standards were enacted under The HIPAA Privacy Rule

According to the CDC, these rules both protect and give patients rights over their health information, while also allowing for the sharing of it for the sake of public health and well-being. Some of HIPAA’s main protections for patients include: 

  • Giving you the right to review and obtain copies of your own health information
  • Requiring that healthcare providers and insurers explain how they will use or disclose your health information
  • Limiting the release of health information to the minimum information needed for the purposes of certain disclosures
  • Ensuring that if your health information needs to be shared, you have to give your formal consent first
  • Holding organizations, companies, and institutions accountable through civil and criminal penalties if your privacy rights are violated

Because of HIPAA, your health status, the types of health care you have sought out, and any payments associated with your care are considered “protected health information,” commonly referred to as PHI. 

When it comes to enrolling patients in clinical trials, physicians have to obtain a HIPAA research authorization. If you decide to participate in a trial, you will likely be asked to sign an authorization form and an informed consent document. Both documents are important and cover a wide range of information and protections.

The informed consent document will outline the study’s design, any possible risks, timeframe, details about healthcare coverage during the study, and moreover, participant confidentiality.

The authorization form will indicate, for example, whether your right to access research information will be suspended until the trial ends. It will also inform you how to revoke authorization. When the results of a clinical trial are published, HIPAA laws continue to apply. 

While there is no easy summation for the complexity of these laws, the bottom line is this: HIPAA laws are in place to protect patients and limit how doctors and researchers can use and disclose protected health information (PHI) for any purpose.

This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.

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