Submitted by Shannon Harman Kerr
No one wants to be in a situation where calling for an ambulance is the only recourse. Though we make our living providing patient care on an ambulance, Tucker County EMS personnel accept this responsibility with a slight bemoaning. There is a certain joy we receive when we are able to help patients, either physically or emotionally. We appreciate being able to help. One aspect of the job that is difficult, though, is the inability to follow-up with our patients.
In 1996, Congress took action to protect sick or injured people’s rights. This act is known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly referred to as “HIPAA.” Essentially, this act was intended to provide the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage for workers who change or lose jobs, reduce healthcare fraud/abuse, mandate industry-wide standards for gathering patient information and billing, and require the protection and confidential handling of protected health information.
This Act changed a lot for the better, but one aspect that often puts emergency medical personnel in a disheartening position is the confidential handling of health information. The HIPAA Privacy regulations require health care providers and organizations to develop and follow procedures that ensure confidentiality and security of patient health information. While this is incredibly important (and supported by EMS), what it does mean is that we rarely get to learn how our patients are doing after we take them to the hospital.
Only sometimes, if the patient knows us personally or is a friend of a friend or has some other social connection to us, do we learn how a patient is doing after his or her emergency. We are not allowed, by law, to follow-up with patients. This law is a good thing; we support it. We adhere to it.