Being a small town rural family doc has its many challenges. But the last time I was on call I ran into one I had not encountered before. Let me set the scene for you. Its Sunday evening, I am in the suburban with my entire family, thats one husband, one nine year old daughter, one seven year old daughter, and one very talkative four year old son for those of you that are just stopping by for the first time. We are driving to our small church. I get a phone call from the hospital about a patient during our drive. Now, I am trying to talk quietly and be discreet. I do not ever use names during on call phone conversations because of HIPPA regulations, but after I hang up the questions from the back began.
“Mommy, what was that about?” “Mommy, why were you telling them to restr, restra, and what does that r word mean?” “Mommy, why did the nurse need to call the family?” “Mommy, will you miss church?”
Now, my daughters have lived with me being on call their entire lives and can probably explain HIPPA better than many attorneys. They just put their ear buds in and don’t ask any more. But the four year old has not learned privacy as defined by HIPPA and the federal government. So, even though I spent the rest of the ride to church explaining HIPPA, I am still not certain he understood.
That story brought to mind why I don’t blog very much about medical issues. Its not that I don’t have concerns about the state of modern medicine, worries about the future of health care, or stories that would make the most stone hearted person cry with concern over the fate of America’s health, its just I get started then I worry where does HIPPA start and I stop.
So, as I tried to explain to my 4 year old, HIPPA is not a HIPPO – it is a set of legal rules that every doctor, well actually everyone that works in healthcare, must follow.
Simply put, it means that in NO WAY can we violate in speak, written articles, text messages, social media, email a patients right to privacy.
Is this always the easiest thing to work under, no. Is it a good idea in theory, yes. But, for example, you are traveling, miles away from home. You are in an accident and end up in a critical care unit with no way to declare who is your loved one and who is legally HIPPA compliant. Technically, the medical team should not speak with anyone over the phone about your condition.
Not your spouse or children, no one, because after all, how do they know who is on the other end of the phone. That seems a little silly, but at least once a week in my rural practice, I am put in a situation on the phone with a family member far away wanting to know how their parent is and I have no way to validate their identify, so what to do… I have to abide by HIPPA, which can lead to very angry patients families. Or here is another situation, what if an elderly demented patient suddenly decides that their doctor can’t tell anyone about their health issues. Now what do you tell the family when they ask about Mom’s health when you make rounds at the hospital?
So, even though I am glad we have laws to protect patient’s rights to privacy… sometimes HIPPA becomes a HIPPO for me to deal with.