Understanding health IT law and abiding by its rules is not just a matter of avoiding HIPAA violations: It also makes decisions and interactions with other doctors easier. Difficult cases and time-sensitive situations have no room for error and practitioners need to not only know the rules but be able to explain them coherently.
A news story for KFOR recently examined the case of a mother in Oklahoma City who has two daughters in the hospital with cancer after losing another to the same illness. Though accessing the records of the deceased daughter would help in treatment, the doctors working on them wouldn't let them because that case involved a different doctor.
This previous doctor denied the requests for access to the files on the grounds that it would be a HIPAA violation since the mother was not listed as an approved source. Instead, the adult daughter said that only her husband would be able to read the records.
While the husband did eventually request the records and help the family, it's important to know the way HIPAA pertains to deceased patients. According to the Department of Health and Human Services' website, identifiable health information is guaranteed protection for 50 years after death.
Relatives can access records, but only if the data they obtain "is limited to that which is relevant to the person's involvement in the decedent's care or payment for care." The "deceased individual" can also give orders to prevent certain people from seeing their records.
Though these rules may seem clear, conflict can arise when an entity doesn't understand properly. Practices should seek out medical litigation support to help address records disputes.