The Importance of Confidentiality

Many patients worry about the confidentiality of their medical information. If their personally identifiable medical information gets out to even a few people, they may suffer consequences at work, school, or their personal life, or they may become the victims of identity theft.

Thankfully, all medical professionals in the United States are legally and ethically required to maintain strict patient confidentiality. Read on to learn more about patient confidentiality rules and guidelines, and the narrow range of circumstances in which medical professionals can share patients’ information.

Confidentiality, Medical Ethics, and the Law

Both medical ethics and several state and federal laws require strict confidentiality of patient information. This includes records of visits, conversations, private communication, and test results.

Perhaps the best-known and broadest law against disclosing private medical information is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. HIPAA defines unlawful breaches of patient information, and establishes severe penalties for breaches.

Even outside of HIPAA, medical ethics establishes limits around the disclosure and use of medical information. A medical professional who illegally and unethically discloses a patient’s information may not just be subject to fines or criminal penalties under HIPAA: they may also face professional sanctions or even the loss of their medical license.

Patient Authorized Release of Information

Sometimes, it’s important to let people in on a patient’s story. Other medical professionals, such as the patient’s regular GP or a specialist, may need medical records so they can give a patient the treatment they need. A lawyer may need medical records to build an accident case.

In these instances, either the professional requesting the information or the office holding the records may ask the patient to sign a release of medical records. This authorizes the office to release some or all of the patient’s records to the office of the professional requesting the information. Patients can submit paperwork rescinding their consent after the fact.

Permissible and Required Release of Information

There are a limited range of situations where professionals can or even must release a patient’s medical information to another party. For instance, HIPAA allows medical professionals to distribute information that has personally identifying information removed.

By stripping information like names, dates of birth, social security numbers, and addresses from a patient’s medical records, researchers can aggregate this information to learn more about general health trends. So long as the stripped information is no longer personally identifiable, this sort of data usage is legal.

There may be other instances where an office needs to release information, usually in a governmental context. For instance, offices need to release information about births and deaths to the government. Public health concerns, such as disease outbreaks or other dangerous situations, may also require disclosure of information without the patient’s consent. In extreme cases (such as child abuse or self-harm), a medical office may be under an obligation to report. However, all of these instances are limited in scope, and comparatively rare.

Onyx Imaging’s medical professionals are committed by law, ethics, and company policy to maintaining the strict confidentiality of all personally identifiable patient information. Because of these rules, Onyx may ask patients to sign paperwork authorizing the release of their medical information. With these procedures in place, patients can rest assured that all their test results are completely confidential, and their privacy is intact.