Clerical Errors - A Cautionary Tale
You know those slightly annoying privacy notices that you have to sign off on every time you visit a new doctor? - the little pamphlet that basically tells you that your information cannot be shared with anybody except the insurance gods without your consent?
These little Xeroxed forms are the result of HIPAA
(Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Of 1996). I have heard many people refer to this type legislation as "nanny-state" and "big brother" because it forces doctors, hospitals and other who keep and read our medical information to handle it uniformly with the privacy that it deserves.
More importantly (but oddly less known) is that this law also gives consumers the right to demand to see their records and have them corrected and amended if there are errors.
That's a very good thing. Let me give you a real life example:
A few weeks back I was visiting an Ear Nose and Throat specialist (ENT) about a chronically stuffy nose. While leafing through my chart, he began to speak of some very serious medical conditions from which I was supposedly suffering and more than a few heavy duty pharmaceuticals that I was reportedly taking. The problem was, none of that information was in any way accurate or correct.
I asked the ENT for a copy of this erroneous report that had come from another doctor after some tests last year. Upon reading it, it was clear that my personal information had been pasted at the top of medical data that had actually been generated by 61 year-old male with severe chronic health problems who apparently had seen the same doctor on the same day in 2006 as I.
In a worst case scenario, this screw up could have had a tragic result.
Imagine if I had been an emergency medical situation and the docs were forced to make quick decisions based upon a 30 second summary of my incorrect medical charts. The medications and procedures available to me may have been limited by the chronic conditions that my chart mistakenly claimed I ailed from. It is not unlikely that the course of treatment could have been severely compromised.
Forget worst case and consider the fact that I am getting ready to purchase Long Term Disability Insurance. The insurance company's underwriters would have based their decision and their rates upon information that made it look like I was a medical ticking time-bomb. That would not be good.
Had HIPPA not been in effect, I would have been at the mercy of the doctor's office to correct the mistakes out of their own free will. For that matter, they could have denied me the right to see my own charts, thereby preventing me from even knowing the extent of the problem.
By invoking HIPPA in my letter requesting a correction, the office from which the mistake originated corrected it almost immediately (well within the 30 days mandated by law) and apologized profusely. And they sent corrected copies to everyone who has seen my records.
Conclusions: 1) Sometimes nanny-state laws are there for a reason and they work. 2) Modern medical record keeping allows mistakes, as well as the correct information, to be shared around the medical community in record time. 3) Check your records every few years. You might be surprised what you find.