Privacy is very important in this era of electronic record keeping. This is especially true of health information. Nobody wants their medical records falling into the hands of unscrupulous institutions who would be happy to use the information to their advantage. To avoid this intimate violation of privacy, follow these four practices:
Pay attention to your surroundings
From the moment you walk into a medical facility, keep an eye out for information breaches. Start with the sign process. Is there a sheet with the names of many patients on it with the doctor they are seeing and appointment times on it? If the answer is yes, this is a bad sign. Any time your name is displayed for public view in a medical setting, a red flag should be raised.
Next, check to make sure privacy is protected in the examination room or procedure area. If the walls are thin or there are only curtains separating you from your fellow patients, your medical information can easily be compromised. If you can overhear medical professionals discussing anything with other patients, go somewhere else.
Find out everybody that has access to your records
Ask the office or hospital information manager who transcribes your records, where they are stored, and who is authorized to see them. If they can’t give a definite answer, go elsewhere. If they use a transcription service, get the name of the service and check with The Joint Commission to see if they have ever had any privacy violations. The Joint Commission is an excellent resource for any questions about medical records confidentiality.
Be careful if your records are processed outside of the United States. Many health organizations have medical transcription and other health data transcribed in other countries over the internet. While this saves them money, many of these records are less accurate and far less secure than if they were transcribed domestically.
Ask for copies of your records on a regular basis
This keeps medical providers honest. Some less than reputable doctors will bill insurance companies for procedures or examinations they did not perform. To do this, they need to have a medical record to back them up. If you saw your doctor solely for a flu shot and find out he claimed to have performed other examinations at that visit, inform The Joint Commission.
Keeping tabs on your medical records also helps to make sure that no old records are being kept by those who are not legally permitted to have them. The American Medical Association has a website that helps inform doctors and patients about how long they are allowed to hold onto medical records. If you find that a doctor or institution still has your records many years after you have been seen there, get a hold of those records and report the doctor.
Find out who sees your insurance information
Check with your health insurance company to get specific information regarding their privacy practices. Make sure to insist upon a listing of everybody within the organization that has access to your data. If you feel like a certain group does not need your information, don’t be afraid to let your insurer know.
Always be wary of health insurance providers that use third party services instead of in house processing. Be it an accounting firm or a durable medical goods company, third party providers are more difficult to keep tabs on.
Following these four practices gives you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are taking an active role in keeping your medical information secure.
Karen Richards is an informations systems specialist and guest author at Health Information Technology, a site with guides and information on health information technology programs.