Health information privacy in the digital age- Dean - WI

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Published on March 24, 2017

Health information privacy in the digital age

Do you know what your health records say? Making sure they are up-to-date and that you have access to them when needed is an important part of managing your health care. SSM Health St. Clare Hospital’s Health Information Management Support Supervisor Stephanie Wilkinson says it’s one detail that’s easy to overlook

What is health information management?

Health information management deals with the management of your health-related records and information. Protected records include your electronic health record, Medical Power of Attorney, the authorization to release health information and restrictions on who can request the release of your medical records. The management of these documents and all patient health information is guided by a federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

HIPAA, which was first passed in 1996 then updated in 2003 and 2013, sets standards for keeping patient data confidential when it is viewed by insurance companies, health care providers and other health care professionals. It also includes strict rules regarding how information is moved from one location to another.

Why would I want access to my protected health records?

“Having access to this information is incredibly important,” says Wilkinson. “Patients deserve to be fully informed when making decisions about their health. We encourage our patients to review their records annually to keep them actively engaged in their care.”

There are many reasons you might want to access your records. Some families like to have an electronic copy of their records to carry with them when they travel, others request to see their records each year to make sure the record reflects any major health changes. Other reasons to request the release of your health information include changing medical providers due to a move or insurance coverage change.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to know what makes up your health record and how to access it.

What is included in an electronic health care record?

Electronic health care records include your health history and important information like current medications, allergies or any recent medical tests you’ve received. These records and notes help your health care team determine what kinds of care you need. Additionally, electronic records are meant to help you be more interactive with your providers and your health.

In addition to your standard medical record, SSM Health MyChart is part of your electronic record. It allows you to view lab and radiology results, after visit summaries and provides a secure way to communicate with your health care team about your health.

Information in your electronic health records can also be securely shared with other medical providers through different state Health Information Networks. These secure networks allow information to be shared by hospitals across Wisconsin and in other states in the event you would need medical care away from home or if you were to move. Each exchange is built in compliance with state and federal laws with specific protocols and in a private, secure network that ensures the safety of your health information.

“While patients are able to opt out of the exchange, one plus for patients is that duplication of care – like ordering expensive tests – can be avoided,” says Wilkinson. “Additionally, if you experience a medical emergency while traveling or on vacation or are unable to provide critical medical information during an emergency, accessing your health information through these secure networks allows medical providers vital access to information about your health like allergies, current prescriptions and other medical conditions to be considered when providing care.”

You mentioned a Power of Attorney for Health Care. What is that?

In Wisconsin, any adult who is of sound mind is able to designate a health care agent to make health care decisions on their behalf, should they become incapacitated for any reason. Once a Power of Attorney for Health Care is drafted, witnessed and signed you should provide an original copy to be scanned into your electronic health record. By doing so, providers who are authorized to view your medical record will also have access to know who has decision making power on your behalf.

It’s important to note that a Power of Attorney does not take effect until two physicians deem a patient incapacitated. Once a physician deems a patient to be of sound mind, the Power of Attorney can be deactivated.

A common question people have concerning Powers of Attorney is “how is this different from a living will?” A living will is limited to deathbed concerns. A Power of Attorney, on the other hand, covers all health care decisions and lasts only as long as you are incapable of making decisions for yourself.

“You can terminate a Power of Attorney by destroying the original,” says Wilkinson. “However, if you do make changes or terminate a Power of Attorney, remember to update your medical provider so that we can update your records.”

If you would like to draft a Power of Attorney for Health Care, you can find the form and more information on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

How do I authorize the release of my health information?

You have the right to access your personal health information and you can authorize its release to a third party, such as a trusted family member or a health provider at another facility. It is important to note that once your health provider releases your health information, they are no longer responsible for its security.

To authorize or request the release of your health information, you’ll have to provide written authorization to your health care provider. Authorization forms are usually found online or at your local clinic or hospital. SSM Health patients can access the request form here.

Once you’ve requested a release of your health information, your health provider has 30 days to provide you or an authorized third party with either a paper or electronic copy of your health information. If you request a release of your information and then change your mind or no longer wish to release the information, send a written notice of terminated authorization to your medical provider.

How do I get access to this information?

You can access the request form here or by calling SSM Health Dean Medical Group's Health Information team at 608-294-6244 (or toll-free at 877-510-1873).

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