New regulation may protect patients

By Mike Linn

A new federal regulation allowing patients to choose who can receive medical updates on their condition is keeping medical records clerks and other health care employees in the safeguard mode.
The privacy rules, in place as of April 14, prohibit disclosure, without patient permission, of any information regarding the patient.
“Your mother can’t even get your medical records (without consent),” said Rita Bickham, a privacy officer with Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales. “If you want to call and see if your cousin is in the hospital you can’t find out by calling.”
The only people who can receive patient records without consent are those treating the patient, law enforcement officials conducting criminal investigations, health insurance companies and state public health officials, Bickham said.
In a case where the patient can’t choose whether to release information — if the patient is in a coma, for example — then the hospital administrator would decide whether or not to disclose information to family members, Bickham said.
James D’Agostino, administrator at RGH, said he supports the new regulations because patient confidentiality is imperative.
“My impression is that with everything that’s come down, and with people divulging information and insurance companies and anybody associated with health care asking for the information, it has really gotten out of hand,” D’Agostino said. “Patient confidentiality is critical.”
D’Agostino said the regulations are nothing new to employees at RGH, but did say paperwork to show compliance with the new law has increased employee workload.
Medical records clerks are experiencing the brunt of that workload, according to Monica Peach, the admitting supervisor for Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis.
Each patient receives a nine-page privacy booklet upon admission into PRMC and must sign an acknowledgement form.
The patients let admitting personnel know via consent forms if they can release information and to whom.
“The patients have more rights of knowing who their medical records are being released to and what parts (of their records) they want released,” Peach said. “The new regulations are more focused on the patients and their privacy.”
Violators of the new regulations can face civil and criminal penalties up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.