Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Help Me Howard: HIPAA
How would you feel if a co-worker knew all about your medical issues, maybe the fact you are fighting depression or HIV. Some South Florida employees are upset because soon all their co-workers will know about their health problems and their bosses are the ones making it possible, which is why one of them called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- We don't normally hide people's faces in a Help Me Howard, but we will in this case.
"Paulette": "Because I'm an HIV case Positive patient."
Paulette, as we will call her, likes to keep her medical issues to herself, but the veil of secrecy is about to be blown away.
"Paulette": "The last couple of days I haven't had any sleep. I haven't been able to work period."
Paulette works for a South Florida mail order pharmacy, filling prescriptions for people all over the country and starting in January for the people who work in the facility.
"Paulette": There's no ins and outs about it. It's mandatory, and if you don't do it mail order you can't get your prescription at all."
Meaning next week, Paulette's co-workers will fill her prescriptions that helps her cope with HIV.
Fill the prescriptions for the person next to them that battles depression. Fill prescriptions for everyone that might be on medications they don't want everyone to know about.
"Paulette": "Most of the employees there, including myself that have HIV, Aids, we don't want our co-workers seeing our prescriptions. Because once you know the name of the prescription you can then link it to the condition."
And Paulette is sure she knows what will happen once her co-workers learn about her condition.
"Paulette": "It's struck a lot of fear in me to know that my co-workers will scorn me. They'lll look at me differently because there's a stigma attached to HIV, AIDS."
Her bosses told her don't worry, we all signed confidentially agreements. I will say it for her, somebody at her company is a little on the naive side.
"Paulette": "Even though we signed a paper that we'll keep the information confidential, people are still going to talk and they'll talk on the job. They'll talk at lunch, they'll talk at home, they'll talk whenever they feel like it, and nothing can be done about it."
Paulette says several of her co-workers feel just like she does and don't want the the person beside them to know about their medical issues.
"Paulette": "It violates my privacy and my rights as a person."
But the company wrote that their legal and compliance department said, "the access to employee records is not a HIPAA violation."
Paulette has suggested to her bosses they have their employees prescriptions filled at another mail order pharmacy. They won't do it.
"Paulette": "I've sent emails to the most important people that could make a difference. There was no response. No response what so ever."
Well Howard, HIPAA is a long complicated law designed to protect your privacy, does it?
Howard Finkelstein: "In this case absolutely not. For example, HIPAA blocks a hospital from revealing a patients condition, but it does not protect an employee who fills prescriptions from a fellow employee who does the same thing. Could the business have employees at a different site fill the prescriptions? Yes. Are they required by law to do it? No."
When we contacted the company they said the appreciated the concerns raised by their employees. That our employees who handle mail order prescriptions are held to a very high standard, including signing confidentiality agreements.
They added that pharmacy employees filling prescriptions for co-workers is no different than doctors nurses and other health care workers treating people they know or having access to their medical records. That this happens every single day across the country.
Howard Finkelstein: "First of all, if this happens to you, file a complaint with HIPAA since this is a new issue, they may conclude the prescriptions have to be filled at another facility. And if your confidential medical information is released by employees you work with, it appears you have a right to sue the business and the employee."
The news distresses Paulette so much that she is thinking of taking a drastic step.
"Paulette": "I seriously have thought about quitting. Just to keep this confidential. I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure this doesn't happen."
What is left to do? Well quickly file that complaint with Health and Human Services, that's the government agency that investigates HIPAA violations. You can file the complaint by email, and if your employer retaliates they can be fined by the federal government.
Been handed a problem that's a tough pill to swallow? Sick of it? Contact us. We aren't pharmacists, but we will try to dig up the prescription for a healthy solution.
File a Complaint--- http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/