"HIPAA" is the dirtiest word I hear, some days. And given the profane things discussed in my day-to-day life, that's impressive.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was an important piece of legislature, passed too late in a time when people had suffered from their healthcare information under one insurance agency not being properly shared with another. Part of that improper information sharing was the OVER-sharing of patients' private information. This law had provisions to protect Grampaw from having the highlights of his colostomy broadcast throughout the parish, or news of his grandaughter Suzie's prescription for antibiotics for a social disease picked up on spring break making its way around campus from the quack shack.
As soon as it was passed in 1996, everyone began to focus on the privacy concerns in HIPAA. So much so, in fact, that I've seen more than one healthcare professional misquote it as "HIPPA," for "Health Information Privacy Protection Act."[sic] Which does not exist.
If they can't even get the NAME OR THE ACRONYMN right, how are they expected to get the content of that large document right? Answer? They don't. I've had more garbage told to me under the umbrella of "We can't tell you that. Sorry. HIPAA."
I once was on duty on a deep night shift in the early aughts, when Dave, a buddy of mine from one of my undergraduate Criminal Justice classes and a sergeant for another police department in our county, was given a rather difficult roadblock to deal with. See, Dave had to work a major multicar crash caused by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a major highway. Dave and his comrades blocked the highway, saw that the wounded were transported by EMS, and had the highway cleared by the wrecker agencies. Part of Dave's duties was to create a landing zone (LZ) for a private helicopter ambulance to land to pick up the suspected drunk driver, who was badly injured in the wreck. After it was all cleared up, Dave sensibly enough radioed our county dispatcher and inquired as to which hospital he should go for the mandatory blood draw that he was going to perform on the driver, who was now a suspect for Intoxication Assault. The county dispatcher called the helicopter ambulance dispatcher, who then, unbelievably, informed the county dispatcher that she could not release that information because of "HIPAA."
Dave was audibly frustrated over the radio. I went to the PD, printed out the exceptions when medical information could be released, circled the section of Law Enforcement Exceptions ("...to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, material witness, or missing person..."), circled the pertinent portion twice with a black Magic Marker, and faxed it to Dave's PD, to the County Dispatcher, and to the office that I thought might be the dispatcher for Moronic Private Helo Medical Transport. Then I sat down and read the document. It wasn't that hard.
The other morning, while visiting my partner in the hospital, I saw his wife smile as he happily dug into the fruit and yogurt that I'd fetched him from the cafeteria, and I whipped out my camera phone to take a quick picture, mostly to send to both their phones. The ICU nurse jumped in, speedy-quick: "You can't take his picture without his explicit permission. It's against HIPAA."
Okay, now look: I appreciate her looking out for my buddy. I really do. More than I can express. I appreciate that my partner isn't quite as fully alert right this minute as he is when he's at his best. But she had stood right there when he had told the doc that I was his partner, like family, and was thus privy to the doctor's briefing him. She had heard me jokingly suggest that he really wanted a Foley catheter while there, and she had heard him laughing with it. I'm on his team. I come in peace. I mean him no harm. His wife, who saw me taking the shot, had leaned in close to him and smiled for the picture.
But most importantly, I'm not subject to HIPAA. I'm not a medical professional. I wasn't handling his information. I'm in no way licensed, medically. It doesn't apply to me.