Home caregivers are familiar with the secretive sign-in sheet at doctor’s offices. You know the one. The sheet of stickers that are peeled off after each patient checks in with the receptionist. But did you know that familiar format is a requirement of HIPAA regulations?
Family caregivers are their aging parents’ tour guides through the health care maze of scheduling medical appointments, ensuring prescriptions are refilled on a timely basis, following up on test results and ensuring that mounds of paperwork is completed. However, if the proper HIPAA releases are not completed that helpful assistance may come to a screeching halt.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was signed into law in 1996. HIPAA addresses several issues, including the right of an individual to make sure that certain health-related information is kept private. HIPAA states that protected health information cannot arbitrarily be shared and defines when such information can be shared without the express permission of the individual, such as for example when one doctor needs to share information with another doctor in order to facilitate treatment in an emergency situation.
A caregiver’s goal is to obtain the best possible care for their loved one and HIPAA guidelines can be adhered to, while allowing for a flow of vital information. This arrangement benefits caregivers, providers, and patients. A caregiver can give better care if he or she has all the facts available. A doctor may also learn important information about a patient from a caregiver, especially if the patient suffers from dementia or has similar issues. A patient, of course, benefits when better communication facilitates more effective treatment.
What about paperwork?
Although HIPAA does not require doctors to share any paperwork with home caregivers, some medical institutions have internal rules which require this. It’s a good idea to find out about such regulations and see that family caregivers have appropriate access to medical information. Also, the family caregiver may wish to inquire about a HIPAA release form from the institution.
What if I am denied access due to HIPAA?
If you do find yourself in a situation in which you are denied access to necessary information about your loved one, ask to speak to someone: a doctor, a staff social worker, a patient representative, or a privacy officer. Make clear what your relationship is to the patient and explain your role as a primary caregiver. Most establishments want to make sure that patients’ needs are met and should be willing to help you with this.