Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Privacy laws mean additional paperwork

April 23, 2003

Nobody's hollered yet about the new form they've been asked to sign at Holst Pharmacy.

But pharmacist Amy McCarty probably wouldn't be surprised if they did.

"My intern has a friend who works at Walgreen's and they have had people griping and saying they're not going to sign it," McCarty said.

As of April 14, pharmacies and hospitals have had to comply with the privacy standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996.

This part of HIPPA is geared to protect patient privacy and health information. The law requires pharmacies to give each pharmaceutical customer a notice explaining privacy practices. A pharmacy must make a good faith effort to have a patient sign an acknowledgement that he or she has received the notice of privacy. Penalties for businesses found to be in violation of the HIPPA rules range from $100 to $250,000 and 10 years in jail.

So last week, Holst employees were working to make sure they were following the rules.

"The main thing is, it's a lot of paperwork," McCarty said. "It's costing us quite a bit of money to have photocopies made of our privacy policy."

Once the patient has been given the notice, the pharmacy's computer system is updated to show that.

Byron Marshall, another Holst pharmacist, says the HIPPA law is for a patient's own good.

"Some companies were selling information," Marshall said. "They could take information on your antidepressants and sell it to drug companies so you would get advertisements for antidepressants. This law very much prohibits that."

Another change is customers won't automatically be able to get printouts of family prescriptions at the end of the year for income tax purposes.

"They'll only be able to get their own and their dependent children's," McCarty said. "They won't be able to get it for their spouse anymore without his or her written request."

And then, pharmacies have to keep those signatures on file for six or seven years, said McCarty, who has been a pharmacist at Holst since 1997.

McCarty noted that patients still will be able to have someone else pick up their prescriptions for them. No written permission is necessary, but a pharmacist's discretion determines whether someone can take those prescriptions.

It used to be a relative or friend could call a hospital to see how a patient was doing.

But no more, said Dennis Minich, health information officer for the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Hospitals now are forbidden from divulging information about patients without the patient's personal permission. And even then, information given will be less detailed.

"There was always an implication that unless they told us they wanted no information given out, that they didn't care," Minich said about the patients. "Now the assumption is that everyone gets the privacy protection unless they waive it."

The laws affect all who might call about a patient.

"It's not just the media calling for conditions," Minich said. "You have to give us permission if Aunt Mary calls to find out how her nephew is. Without that, you can't talk to anybody."

The law also applies to patients who are celebrities, Minich noted, adding he'd read last week that a well-known baseball player had been injured and sent to a hospital.

"All the article said was that he got hurt in a pickup baseball game," he said. "It said they could provide no information on the nature of his injury because of national laws regarding privacy."

Now, even if a patient does agree to waive privacy rights, finding out their condition will take more than the minute-phone call it used to take.

"It used to be we'd call a nurse," Minich said. "Now there are four safeguards to go through."

It's important to be in compliance, he added, explaining:

"It's my understanding each violation is a $25,000 fine."

At Tonganoxie's medical office of Dr. Deborah Gammill, privacy has long been on the front burner.

"We've always been pretty strict on privacy," said Dot Espy, the office's receptionist.

At patients' initial visit, they have to specify if a spouse will be able to talk to the physician or office about their medical condition. Although most specify their spouse can be privy to their medical well being, some do not, Espy said.

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