What is HIPAA?

From dentistry to your personal physician’s waiting room, if you’ve received any type of healthcare services over the last two decades, you’ve seen a paper or heard the term “HIPAA” used. Established as a law in 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (also known as “HIPAA”) to protect patients while establishing privacy and protection of individual’s information.

But what is HIPAA, exactly?

Keeping Your Information Confidential

HIPAA helps to protect your privacy and personal health information. For example, if you’ve had tests run or X-rays taken, your doctor or dentist cannot discuss their findings or your health with anyone, unless you’ve given the permission to do so. Privacy rules ensure that your health status isn’t disclosed to someone else without your consent.

In regard to dental insurance, HIPAA forces all electronic health information (such as your claims and digital records) to be securely stored or transferred in a way where it’s not read or accessed by anyone other than who is necessary to process your insurance claims, reimbursements, checks, etc.

Everything from your name and social security number to your private records are covered under HIPPA.

HIPAA Violations

When an insurance company or healthcare provider fails to properly protect sensitive information or the privacy of a patient’s health data, they can be fined. When HIPAA was first implemented in 1996, fines were more common. Since then, providers have worked to establish strict guidelines and privacy practices that make it more difficult for 3rd parties to gather private information of their patients.

Poor handling or storage of your private information would otherwise result in the opportunity for that data to be stolen, placing you at risk and the at-fault party susceptible to huge fines. Depending on the violation, providers can be fined up to millions of dollars.

Who is Affected?

Every patient in the United States is protected by HIPAA, whether they’re seeing a dentist or any other type of healthcare provider. The same laws also apply to insurance companies. While patient privacy has always been a concern in healthcare, HIPAA places additional responsibility on non-healthcare personnel who work with insurance claims and processing, even though they may not be the person administering treatment or services. This includes the people processing your information or checking you in at the reception desk.

Required Training

Dental and medical offices are legally required to have all staff trained on current HIPAA rules and regulations, with updates on a routine basis. Such refreshers are a good reminder, given the changes in electronic data use and technological advancements that are constantly changing. But written and oral communications are also enforced by HIPAA laws, which is why a dentist may not be able to “chat” with you on Facebook or texting, or the treatment coordinator escorts you to a private area to discuss your treatment along with the estimated insurance coverage.

Release Forms

Before your dental insurance can be filed or a treatment plan discussed with your loved one, you’ll need to sign appropriate release forms with your dentist’s office. Otherwise, they legally cannot process claims or review concerns with your family.

For more information or specific questions about what your dental provider does to protect your private information, ask to speak with the practice or office manager.