morguefileAs technology continues to progress, it becomes more challenging to understand HIPPA and the proper protection of personal information and data in medical records. Recent newsworthy events are raising questions about the interpretation of HIPPA and what constitutes patient protection.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed by Congress in 1996. It establishes a national standard for the protection and confidential handling of protected health information. HIPPA also provides the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage when people change or lose their jobs. It creates industry-wide standards and helps reduce health care fraud and abuse.

Several recent situations raise questions about how to interpret HIPPA and when these standards should be followed. Some are clear violations of HIPPA while others are unique circumstances that require additional debate. The bottom line is whether the person’s most private information has become public.

For example, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reports a former East Texas hospital employees was sentenced to prison for HIPPA violations. The employee pleaded guilty to wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information. U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis sentenced the employee to one year and six months in prison. During his time of employment, the worker obtained protected information with the intent to use it for his personal gain. This is clear violation of HIPPA.

In a more complicated situation, WABC reports a young Suncoast woman said the rule made to protect her was violated. The woman requested her identity not be disclosed. In a series of text messages between a counselor and the woman, the counselor admitted to sharing private information. The young woman stated she trusted the provider and discovered she was telling other patient about what she shared. This included details about her personal secrets, past lifestyle and family. The counselor had no comment.

In a situation that represent the potential confusion about the terms of HIPPA, FOX 2 reports a Missouri mom was ordered to turn over her cell phone after taking a photo of her 7-year-old son during a hospital doctor’s appointment than posting the image on social media. A security guard told the mother she had violated HIPPA. The mother had taken photos in the past and posts them online to try to raise funds for her son’s costly hearing aids. She left the hospital voluntarily and the facility regrets the confusion and will review its policies.

The evolution of “care traffic control” raises more questions about patient privacy. The term refers to a medical caregiver monitoring a patient’s vitals as they go about their daily activities, much like using a FitBit to gauge weight loss and exercise efforts. The caregiver will warn the patient about potential problems and even adjust medication. Fox News reports Alex Moazed, CEO of Applico, a mobile app platform, indicated since the personal data is “opt in” and controlled by the patient, it is does not fall under regulations such as HIPPA.

As health care options and technology continue to evolve and change, understanding HIPPA is crucial for patients and medical providers. Courses such as the ones offered by security information awareness providers such as Global Learning Systems can help ensure employees are compliant with key regulations to help avoid possible violations. Ongoing education will be a crucial factor in properly interpreting HIPPA and maintaining patient privacy in the future.