• HIPAA and Emergencies

  • Do the laws surrounding HIPAA relax during emergencies like the recent flooding in Texas and Florida? The answer is, “no”. HHS did release a bulletin during Hurricane Harvey, with three exceptions to a breach.

    The exceptions are important to note, because if you have family struggling for healthcare during these challenging times, the last thing you need are complicated protocols in a quest to obtain medical information. HHS has given hospitals and medical providers permission to let family members know if their loved one is a patient at a facility. In addition, the family member can speak with the facility and or practitioner about the individual's condition as well as their health issues. This communication channel allows family members to obtain the critical information necessary to locate patients who may have fled to another state, and to transition these patients during the challenging burden of relocation.

    Some additional suggestions from AARP include:

    • RxOpen.org
      RxOpen maps open and closed pharmacies during disasters. This “helps patients find nearby open pharmacies in areas impacted by disaster. Combining multiple data feeds from the pharmaceutical industry, Rx Open displays the precise location on Google Maps of open pharmacies, closed pharmacies, and those whose status is unknown.”

    • Direct Relief
      Low-income patients can go to community health centers or clinics where the charity Direct Relief provides free prescription drugs and medical supplies.

    • For those on a Medicare Prescription Plan, Medicare recommends contacting the plan to find the nearest network pharmacy that is open. If one in unavailable, the plan can connect evacuees to out-of-network pharmacies. To find your plans phone number call 1-800-MEDICARE.

    Natural disasters challenge us. The effective response to a disaster includes timely information at the point of care. Although we never expect to be victims of a disaster, preparedness is key. In the case of elderly family members, make sure they enlist a HIPAA representative. A HIPAA representative is someone named by the patient, and granted access to the patient's protected health information (PHI). The designated representative has the power to make health care decisions. In addition to having a HIPAA representative, it’s wise to plan ahead with medications. Be sure to have your medications ePrescribed. This ensures an electronic record is available within a pharmacy benefit system, and can be accessed from any location. If possible, have 90-day supplies available.

    Preparing for a disaster can reduce the fear, anxiety and loss that accompany these events. In the case of personal health information, preparation is key to maintaining a sense of normalcy, to make imminent transitions a bit easier.

    * Photo from US Airforce Central Command

    * http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/model-notices-privacy-practices/

    Judith is an accredited Certified HIPAA Professional (CHP) and member of HIMSS. As the owner of JAL, Judith is your subject matter expert providing guidance to organizations within HIPAA, GLBA, False Claim and other regulatory agencies. Judith provides reasonable and appropriate compliance policies, procedures within your Compliance Program. As a guru in compliance, Judith delivers compliance employee training programs, and participates in educational speaking engagements for the industries who handle Protected Health Information. To read more about the world of compliance subscribed to JAL’s insightful newsletter at www.jalconsultantsaz.com.

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