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Some Important HIPAA Considerations for Seniors

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Some Important HIPAA Considerations for Seniors

At Grand Villa assisted living community in Grand Junction, we make it a priority to empower our residents. A flexible social calendar, spacious assisted living apartments, exercise classes and providing various options for working with staff to maintain health are some of the ways we support seniors in living independently and vibrantly. We also enjoy seeing our residents learn about ways to empower themselves.

Being empowered to make the right health care decision for yourself is important, and that doesn't change as you age. As long as you're able, having the knowledge and support you need to take control of your own health can be empowering. But health care for seniors today involves a lot more than meeting with physicians and ensuring you take your medications. One thing that's important to understand is HIPAA.

What Is HIPAA?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It was enacted in 1996 to help people have more control over their own health information. Among other things, the act requires health insurance providers to protect your health information, only releasing it to others when you give permission or it's necessary for treatment and related administrative functions (such as billing your insurance company).

Under HIPAA, you also have the right to:

  • Know who has accessed your medical records, including other providers
  • Request corrections to inaccurate information in your health record
  • Have access to your medical records upon request

What Benefits Do Seniors Get From HIPAA?

Seniors benefit from HIPAA protection in many of the same ways that people of all ages do. You know that when you share information with your medical provider, that information must be kept private by law. Your doctor, nurse or other provider can't discuss anything about your case or your treatment with other family members or friends unless you give them permission to do so. That means you can talk about any physical or mental health issue with your providers without worrying that someone else might find out about the details of your case.

But providers aren't just tasked with keeping your personal health information confidential from those in your community. They're also tasked with securing the information against hacks and other breaches. That means taking precautions to secure digital and physical records as well as those that are shared between providers and other health care entities. For example, digital transmissions between a general practitioner and your specialist would need to be encrypted and can't be sent over the same types of common email channels you might use to send a recipe to a friend.

If your health care information is ever put at risk by a breach, the law protects your right to know. The organization that experienced the data breach is legally required to notify you of the event in writing so you can take precautions to protect yourself. Since personal health information can include data such as your full name, date of birth and Social Security number, you may want to keep an eye on accounts, check your credit and change all your passwords if you're notified of a potential breach.

What Actions Should You Take Related to HIPAA?

Understanding how HIPAA laws protect you helps you understand how they might restrict you too. For older adults, it can be confusing to understand when and how doctors and other providers can communicate with potential caregivers or your adult children.

In some cases, you want your providers to be able to communicate with these people. Perhaps you would like your sister to hear information about your health condition and treatment because she offers you regular moral support. You might want an adult child to be able to hear these things because you would like their help in making health care decisions or just want to make it easier for everyone to know what is happening.

HIPAA does make some provisions to allow health care providers to talk to loved ones without your express written permission. For example, if you invite someone into a doctor's consultation with you, the physician can assume that you want the person to hear information about your medical care. In cases where someone can't make their own wishes clear for any reason, physicians are allowed to make a judgement call on who they should discuss information with.

But that's a lot of gray area and relying on other people to make decisions for you. And, as we already said, taking charge of your own health care decisions can be empowering. Seniors might consider talking to their providers to find out how to put it in writing that certain people are allowed to receive their health care information. You can also put it in writing that you don't want certain people to receive your health care information if that is a worry for you.