Now that You're Making Health Care Decisions
Take it one step at a time. You're not a kid anymore, you've got a lot going for you and your privacy is protected. It's all good-but what does it mean?
Confidentiality and HIPAA: What it Means When You Turn 18
Changes in patient rights and confidentiality have become major factors in how health care works. The changes have been under way since HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) became law in 2003.
The main mission of HIPAA is to protect medical records and other health information. The law set new standards that give you, the patient, more control over how your records are used and who can see them.
The main points that affect you are:
• You can now see and have copies of your medical records.
• Health care practitioners are required to give you written notice of how their medical information will be used.
• It limits the ways in which health care providers can use personal information.
• It prohibits marketing.
• It strengthens state laws to provide extra privacy.
• You have the right to demand that all communications are confidential.
• You will be asked to sign a release of information form before any information about can be shared with others.
There are two exceptions to this rule: if there is a concern for the safety of another person or if there is a concern for public welfare. Your rights change, depending on your age.
Before you turn 18:
Your parents or legal guardians are authorized to make decisions about your health care and treatment. They can access all information you share with your doctor, and they can decide who else may see it.
After you turn 18:
Now, it's up to you to say who can access your health information and how it can be used. You may want to talk to your parents about it. Whether or not you are still covered by your parents' medical insurance, you should decide together how you'll handle information sharing, particularly if something were to happen to you.
You've Chosen Your New Doctor. Now What?
1. Call to make your first appointment. This is usually your annual (yearly) physical. You may have to wait a few months for this first check up. If you have a specific health concern, you can ask for an earlier appointment to address that concern. Also ask what paperwork you'll need for the first appointment.
2. If you have health insurance, let them know who you've chosen as your Primary Care Provider ("PCP" or doctor). You may be able to do this online or by phone. Check your insurance card for contact and Web site information.
3. If you don't have insurance, ask if there is a sliding scale or free services for uninsured patients. Confirm how much (if any) money will be required at the time of the appointment. If the service is free, ask if you have to bring any supporting documentation to entitle you to be treated without charge.
Before You Go to Your Appointment:
1. Gather the paperwork they requested. In all cases, bring your health insurance card, picture ID, and know your social security number. If you need employer information, make sure you know the address and phone number.
2. Call your former doctor (pediatrician). Find out if you need to sign a release of information to have your medical records sent to your new doctor and follow through with this step.
3. If something comes up that you can't make your appointment, call to cancel the appointment at least 24 hours before your appointment time. You may be charged if you don't!
Ask Questions and Build Your Provider/Patient Relationship
Two of the most valuable things you can do with your doctor to protect your health:
• Ask questions
• Share information honestly
From Your First Visit into the Future:
Your doctor's job is to help you get or stay healthy. In order for him or her to do their best, it's important to provide them with all relevant health-related information about you and your lifestyle.
Once you reach the age of 18, your personal privacy is protected by law. This means it's safe to talk to your doctor, no matter what.
If you don't feel comfortable talking to your doctor or your doctor doesn't seem to have time to answer your questions, ask the receptionist if there is an administrator or patient relations manager who might be able to help. If you aren't happy with the result, check out other doctors.