HIPAA, Totally Un-hip

“This is the third time I’ve been here for me hemorrhoids! The last time they just tucked them in. Can you fix it better this time?” Such was the conversation I heard from the next pre-op stall as I was lying in a St. Louis hospital. The lady next door was vocal and didn’t mind who was listening to the problems she was experiencing down under, breaking every statute in the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) law book. No matter what the letters seem to indicate, it’s an act signed by President Clinton in 1996, designed to protect our privacy as a patient. However, there’s nothing in the law protecting our ears from the ailments of others.

When my sister-in-law calls a medical facility on my behalf it’s Death by a Thousand Questions as she tries in vain to convince them to talk. In some cases she can add me to the phone conversation so I can attest that I really am who I say I am. This procedure is more than cumbersome. It takes valuable time and so far I’ve seen no need for it.

Why do we need HIPAA? No, I’m not one of the anti-regulation nuts who want to turn our country into the Wild West, but sometimes we just go a step too far. The chances of the patient in the next room stealing my x-rays and claiming them to be his are rather remote. Never once have I been stopped in the McDonald’s drive-up and told by the lady in the pick-up window that she’d heard about my last PET scan. I’ve yet to see a column in The Source delineating the fluid output of Passavant patients. And I realize that The Source is supposed to be a periodical featuring positive news, so I’ll simply state that HIPAA is positively ridiculous.

What is there about my health condition that could possibly be any use to anyone else? Is St. John’s Hospital disguising nuns as orderlies and sneaking them into 2nd floor Passavant to steal temperature readings? Does Passavant send Russian spies into the Springfield clinic to gather information on gastrointestinal problems? Is there anyone at all out there who really wants to steal my medical records? Is Prompt Care going to install a digital billboard saying, “Hey! Ken Bradbury had a toenail removed here! Make us you one-stop shop for foot problems!”

I recently spent some time in one of the holding pens in an Emergency Room facility. Although the lady next door was simply the patient’s caretaker, she was being very vocal about her needs. “So how am I supposed to get home? Do you know I have to work tonight? I’ve only had this job a couple months and I can’t get fired! Is this going to take all night? He’s just got chest pains!” I never did hear a peep from the patient himself, but perhaps he’d been rushed to the hospital because he was simply tired of listening to her. In any case, HIPAA got splattered all over the floor.

When you enter the ER you must answer several questions, all within earshot of everybody else in the waiting room. If there’s something wrong with you anyone with decent hearing will pick up on your ailment. So much for privacy regulations. And no, I’m not advocating that every hospital build a soundproof booth and pass the cost along to us. It’s just that it’s an unenforceable rule costing us bucks, taking our time, and adding yet another rung to the ladder of medical steps that must be taken.

I can envision a time in the frighteningly near future when I’ll regain consciousness after a life or death operation and ask the surgeon, “Doc, am I going to make it?”

He says, “I can’t tell you.”

“You what? You can’t tell me how the surgery went?”

“According to HIPAA regulations we have to check to make sure you’re who you say you are. I can’t give this information to just anybody.”

“Of course I’m me!”

“Do have an ID?”

“I don’t even have my socks! I just came out of an operation!”

“Sorry, but HIPPA won’t allow me to. . .”

“Look, take my fingerprints. Have my family come in to identify my body! See that scar on my left leg? The guy you just took into surgery had one just like it!”

“As soon as you get back from having your fingerprints and retina scanned I’ll tell you how much longer you’ll have to live.”

HIPPA? Totally un-hip.

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