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Health care professionals and government officials take patient privacy and information protection seriously. You should too. Every year, thousands of individuals become victims of stole identities, compromised personal information, and healthcare errors. While health care institutions and organizations are required by law to take certain steps to protect patient health information, what can patients, themselves, do to protect their personal health information?

Sharing Health Information
HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and Regulations have been implemented and are regularly enforced to protect patient health information obtained by healthcare providers and health insurance companies. However, these protective efforts are not valid if patients share their information with an organization that is not sanctioned by HIPAA. Lately, social media and worldwide internet use has made it more simple than ever to obtain patient health information in an informal, unregulated manner. Patients should never post information about health conditions on a social media page.

Protecting Health Information at Home
Physicians, hospitals, and health insurance companies go to great lengths to safeguard patient health information, and individuals should do the same within their own home. Information stored on home computers or hard drives and information sent through technology, such as e-mails regarding health information, should be protected. Implementing passwords, security questions, and Captcha can help safeguard personal information against internet predators. These tools can help keep personal information safe even if a computer is stolen.

Verify Requests for Health Information or Permission for Treatments
Due to the health care crisis, healthcare identity thieves have made themselves popular and pose a serious threat to patients. These identity thieves can steal patient identities and information in attempt to obtain medical treatment, surgery, and prescription drugs. By verifying sources before sending any type of health information, patients can protect themselves and their families. Safeguarding electronic information and shredding documents pertaining to health insurance and referrals is also beneficial.

Storing Health Information Online
While many websites offer to store patient health information in one location for easy access and organization, patients should read through the websites terms and policies before submitting any type of information. Third-party sharing and lax security standards could set patients up for the unauthorized sharing of health information.

Know Your Rights
In the event that a patient feels that their rights have been violated under HIPAA policies, a complaint can be filed directly through HIPAA or the healthcare provider. Patients can find directions for beginning this process in their Notice of Privacy Practices. In addition, patients can also file complaints through their state’s Attorney General Office or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. If the entity that shared health information was not covered by HIPAA, patients can still take action by reporting unauthorized information sharing to the Federal Trade Commission.

While health information theft is not a topic that is commonly discussed, it occurs everyday to unsuspecting individuals. Unauthorized treatment, surgeries, and prescription drug obtainment are serious federal offenses that can lead to time in prison. In order to prevent the unauthorized sharing of your personal health information, follow the aforementioned guidelines and always be careful when sharing any type of personal information. Protect yourself and your family by verifying that entities are regulated by HIPAA before disclosing any health information.

Ashley Wilson is a medical transcriptionist and guest author at Health Information Management, where she has contributed to the Health Information Management Review.