Thursday, September 27

Pain in the HIPAA

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.) Perhaps your only experience with this evil incarnate is that bushel of papers handed to you when you see a new physician for the first time. Perhaps you glance at it once, casually, before throwing it away a week later after it develops coffee rings from its impromptu nesting place on the kitchen table.

Perhaps you are not me.

If you are unfamiliar with HIPAA, you can read the Wikipedia entry. Or you can simply take me at my word: HIPAA is a federal privacy policy enacted by minions of the Dark Lord. It has turned the simple act of getting one's own medical records (or one's own minor child's medical records) into an excruciating process less appealing than, and not nearly as productive as, sticking flaming toothpicks in one's eardrums.

Having sparked your interest, I'll cut to the chase. This is not the worst HIPAA experience I've ever had (that honor goes to my experience with Aetna, in the blog archives.) That makes it worse, actually. This is routine.

Last week, my daughter had an medical procedure done at the local Children's Hospital. I knew enough to request the HIPAA release form up front, at the check-in desk. I filled it out (officially giving myself permission to have copies of the medical records.)

Today, I called Medical Records to inquire about the status of this request. (They claim records are available within 1-5 days of request; I waited 9.) First the lady in Medical Records told me there was no HIPAA release on record for my daughter. When I insisted, she put me on hold. Five minutes of Muzak later, she returned. She found the release, but it was missing my address.

Now, I do not recall the form even asking for my address. However, to avoid any problems, I told her I'd come pick up the records in person-- no address should be required, just my ID.

No, I can't do that.

Okay, I'll give her my address over the phone.

No, she can't alter the form.

Well, for goodness' sake, why on earth did the check-in lady who witnessed the release not notice it was missing this crucial, earth-shattering piece of information?

She's not used to the forms.

Pardon me, but she's handing them out, witnessing them, and filing them-- perhaps she should become used to them!

Finally she said I could fax a new release. She faxed me a new release form, and I filled it out (incidentally, it was different than the original form I filled out.) Then I realized the cover page had no return fax number. I called the hospital main line, got the fax number. Faxed it back. Called Medical Records to make sure the fax was received. A different lady answered (naturally, the original woman had left for the day.)

Yes, the fax was received-- but I would have to mail the original to them.

So what the heck was the point of the fax?!

Calming myself, I told her the original form was already on file, minus my address. "Oh, then that's okay," she said.

So . . . apparently an actual original signature can be missing from the HIPAA Holy Writ, but an address cannot.

This, you see, is the beauty of HIPAA. Only Satan could've figured this one out.