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HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a federal law created to, among other things, standardize electronic healthcare transactions and to protect a patient’s medical and health information. In 2009, Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act modified some parts of HIPAA and added the requirement that patients receive notification if their privacy is breached. A patient’s privacy is violated when pharmacy staff or other health care workers improperly use, disclose or allow unauthorized access to confidential health information. Sometimes this even includes sharing information with a patient’s family.
A pharmacist has a duty to investigate prescriptions and various harmful affects associated with the prescriptions they fill, often times this includes contacting certain physicians. HIPAA establishes a complex set of regulations specifying who can use or disclose patient PHI to whom and for what purpose. Pharmacists and pharmacies are only allowed to use PHI in a manner that is permitted or required by HIPAA. Providers must take reasonable steps to limit the use or disclosure of PHI to the minimum necessary to accomplish the intended purpose of the use or disclosure. In other words, PHI should only be released on a need-to-know basis. However, the minimum necessary requirement does not apply to treatment activities. Therefore, if a pharmacist called a prescriber to verify the intended use of a medication, the prescriber would be allowed to provide this information. A few other exceptions to the minimum necessary requirement also exist. These include disclosures of patient health information that are required by law (e.g., reporting for public health surveillance programs and reporting suspected victims of abuse or neglect). Therefore since this was a treatment activity, the pharmacist has a duty (for the protection of the patient) to follow up on the medications they are filling.
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