HIPAA or PIPEDA at Your Fingertips

For all its good intentions, HIPAA (known as PIPEDA in Canada) is a pain in the backside.

Yes, granted, what it’s intended to do is keep personal health/ medical information safe and away from the eyeballs and datasets it shouldn’t be seen in – a good thing. But of course, as we all know, the road to heaven is paved with all those good intentions… and here we are 25 and 20 years after their implementation, and that heaven-bound road is full of potholes.

Still, HIPAA and PIPEDA are a fact of life, and to do our jobs well and good, we must follow the rules. That means acquiring signatures on HIPAA and PIPEDA forms from all our clients, to give to their providers from whom we want to gain records or share information. They cannot legally share that information with us unless they have their patients’ signature permission. Further, some of them like to deny advocates’ access, so having the signature ready can shut down that denial.

I’ve been asked many times whether APHA offers a sample HIPAA agreement or how someone can get copies of a useful HIPAA agreement. Today’s tip is going to make that even easier for you than asking the question!

Some HIPAA / PIPEDA form history:

When advocacy was just beginning to blossom as a profession, we recommended advocates download a generic HIPAA/PIPEDA form from the internet. Such a form was easily obtained by doing a search for the state or province the patient lived in (or at least where their doctors were located), and then “HIPAA form” or “PIPIDA form”. That would usually yield several choices of forms. The advocate could simply download one, print several copies, then ask their client for signatures.

Today, in the US, there are fewer and fewer independent medical practices. More and more of them have been purchased by larger hospital systems. Those systems don’t like doing things that aren’t their usual way of doing them, and if the HIPAA /PIPEDA form you present isn’t what they are used to, they may deny to supply what you need. So advocates have learned that by using the specific form accepted by any given hospital system, they can get what they need, and share what they have, more readily.

In Canada, where PIPEDA is slightly different from HIPAA, there are sports and other organizations even beyond hospital systems and provinces that require signatures on a PIPEDA form. This advice applies to them, too.

The quick and easy way to get these forms today:

Today, these agreements are still just as easy to obtain, and usually free for the taking. But there are some nuances that can make them even more effective and accepted. Our advice for using the right and best form has evolved, and is the same in both countries.

  • If your client’s providers are mostly affiliated within one specific system or hospital, ask them where you can obtain a copy of their preferred HIPAA or PIPEDA form, then get your client’s signature on it. They may email one to you, or they may even offer a link online where it can be downloaded.
  • If your client needs to go to lab, or an imaging center, or an independent facility or provider, then ask them if they have a preferred form – and like above, they will email or send you to a link where it can be downloaded.
  • If you think the patient’s provider is independent of any system, then do the same thing – ask them about their preferences. If they are satisfied with a generic one, then you can use the same approach we used in the “old” days: do a search with the name of your state or province plus “HIPAA form”.

Your next step will be, of course, to get the signatures you need. Keep copies of them for future use, just in case. You might even want to keep blanks for the various systems your clientele use so you won’t have to ask for the blank forms each time.

Don’t let the lack of the “right” form get in your way. Using this advice will make the process of getting records and sharing records far easier than it otherwise might have been.

And while you are at it – be sure you know how to spell! 🙂


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