Privacy in the Digital Age

Your Information and How It’s Kept Secure

Privacy in the digital age is a very popular topic; It seems that we read about a new breach of security almost every week. Despite every assurance by internet agencies, retail stores, banks, and other sites, nothing ever seems absolutely secure.

A Brief Overview of HIPAA and  its Importance

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – or as many people call it, HIPAA – was enacted in the year 1996. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, HIPAA’s privacy laws were created to make sure health care facilities properly protect your private patient information, whether it is physical or online.

Every time you visit a health care provider, they have you sign a form about your privacy rights. That form also explains how the office that holds your records will not share your information with anyone else without your written consent. As the years go on and technology improves, health care facilities have had to update their ways of protecting your information.

How Are Medical Records Kept?

Electronic medical records are now ubiquitous in hospitals and large clinics. This has many advantages: increased patient care and safety, not to mention improved record legibility (doctors have notoriously bad handwriting). Electronic medical records are also designed to improve access between multiple providers who are treating any given patient, as well as providing patients access to their own records. Unfortunately, this makes access by unauthorized individuals theoretically possible as well.

What Was Done Before Electronics to Keep People’s Information Private?

When computers were still in use in medical facilities before HIPAA laws were enacted, the privacy of patients was not thought about as it is today. Computer screens were never locked, and a log on with a password was rare. Medical staff members preferred to ensure they could access information quickly instead of keeping it all private and safe. Back then, anyone could have walked up to a computer and used it. HIPAA laws did help prevent this by requiring certain steps that must be taken at all medical facilities to ensure patient information is kept as private as possible. However, things are still overlooked: some offices email x-rays or other patient information to other offices without a secure connection and without requiring the use of a password to retrieve said information, meaning anyone could technically intercept it between the sending and the receiving. This also means if there is an error when typing the recipient’s email address, it could go to someone else entirely, thus violating HIPAA laws (but the information is already gone and in the wrong person’s hands).

Because of this, we feel that the safest way to keep all of the information and records for each of our patients is by using what is commonly called the “old fashioned” way: on paper.

How  Your Records Are Kept Private With Dr. Bartell

Cosmetic surgery is a very personal and private decision, and few individuals wish to advertise their treatment.  It’s practically impossible to keep records out of your electronic chart at any large medical clinic today. The only way to keep your treatment by a cosmetic surgeon totally private is to use a plastic surgeon not “hooked up” to the electronic medical records systems.

Here at my office, I use the “old fashioned” paper records system. This not only keeps my records completely private and secure, but allows me more time to interact with my patients (as opposed to tapping on a keyboard) during our visits. The choice is yours, but I believe that it is the obligation of the physician to provide the most private care available.

Blog post by Dr. Bartell