Just Where Is that Privacy Line?

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Just Where Is that Privacy Line?

This week we were contacted by two major TV news outlets requesting interviews with advocates – one a national broadcast outlet, the other in Chicago. As we do when we receive these requests, we immediately alerted those Premium members who are on our Opportunities & Alerts notification lists so they could respond if they fit the profiles. In both cases, the media were looking to talk to APHA members – and even more so, client-patients of our members. These requests came on the heels of a post in the APHA Discussion Forum expressing concern over problems that could be caused by having a Facebook page. The poster was worried that if a patient asked a personal health question on the advocate’s Facebook page, it would cause a HIPAA privacy violation, and she didn’t want to run that risk. Then came an email question from a member: how can we, as advocates, claim we value client privacy, then turn around and expose them to the media? Of course, the underlying point to the question is about exposure for our own advantage, to promote our advocacy work. Two great questions! And inspiration for today’s blog post. The answers aren’t difficult to understand, but there are a few moving parts, as follows: First, Regarding HIPAA HIPAA’s privacy laws are written for “covered entities,” that is, people and organizations within healthcare who are deemed by the US government to be required to protect the privacy of their patients and customers. The US government defines covered entities as “Health care providers who transmit any health information electronically in connection with certain transactions, Health plans, Health care clearinghouses.” Canada has a very similar, parallel privacy law, too. Discussions about whether or not private advocates would be considered as “covered entities” have produced the following: We will not ever know FOR SURE whether we, as advocates, are considered covered entities until someday one of us is sued for a privacy breach and it is tested in the courts. We have asked three attorneys whether they believe the law would define us as covered entities. Two said NO,…

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