New Law Gives You Say in Your Medical Records

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Kazak Daily Herald Staff Writer

They'd been primed.

The doctors, pharmacists, and dentists. The hospital clerks who shuttle medical records from file drawer to nurse's hand. The desk clerks who say sign in, take a seat, and the doctor will see you shortly.

On Monday, a new federal law aimed at protecting medical privacy took effect.

Six years in the making, the Health Information Portability and Accountability act, also called HIPAA, forces anyone with medical records access to ensure the patient, and no one else, has final say about who else sees those records.

The law reaches beyond doctor's offices, affecting paramedics, hospital janitors, social workers and drug treatment center employees.

The law lets hospitalized patients keep their name off of the hospital directory if they choose. Patients can review medical records on demand, as well as logs of who else has seen those records.

Patients now can force corrections if they spot an error. And they can block their doctor, hospital or HMO from sharing personal information, whether to drug companies, other doctors or immediate family members, without their permission.

The act didn't just set these patients rights in legal stone Monday, it required that everyone be told about it, too.

Many suburban medical professionals said they worried that on Monday that mandate would bring hellish waiting room delays and long pharmacy lines, all spawned by lengthy explanations and inevitable questions.

At many area hospitals, nothing of the sort occurred.

"If there are questions, our staff must be handling them well, because they're not reaching our level," said Theresa Hoban, vice president and general counsel of Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. That held true at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, too.

"We were prepared for longer lines, more questions, and a lot of time taken to answer those questions," said Chris Vicik, a Condell spokeswoman. …