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What are patient rights under HIPAA?

What are patient rights under HIPAA?

HIPAA ensures that patients are granted particular rights, giving them control over their protected health information (PHI). Understanding these rights allows individuals to actively participate in their healthcare journey while safeguarding their privacy.


Overview of HIPAA

The Privacy Rule establishes national standards for protecting individuals' medical records and other PHI. It outlines the permissible uses and disclosures of PHI by covered entities and grants patients certain rights over their health information. The Security Rule, on the other hand, focuses on the technical and administrative safeguards that covered entities must implement to secure electronic PHI.


1. Notice of privacy practices

The notice of privacy practices (NPP) is a document provided by covered entities—such as healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses—that outlines how patient information may be used and disclosed. It is a communication tool to inform individuals about their rights under HIPAA.

The NPP typically includes information about :

  • The types of PHI collected
  • The purposes for which it may be used or disclosed
  • Individuals' rights regarding their PHI and how individuals can exercise those rights. 

Covered entities must provide the NPP to patients at the time of their first encounter or during enrollment in a health plan. Ensuring patients receive and comprehend the NPP empowers them to exercise their rights and make informed decisions about their health information.


2. Right to access

Patients have the right to access and obtain copies of their health records and PHI held by covered entities. This right allows individuals to review their medical information, correct inaccuracies, and actively engage in healthcare decisions. Access to health records enables patients to understand their medical history, make informed decisions about their care, and share relevant information with other healthcare providers.

To exercise the right to access, patients generally need to submit a written request to the healthcare provider or entity holding their records. The covered entity must respond within a reasonable timeframe and may charge a reasonable fee for providing the copies. While there may be exceptions and limitations to the right, such as psychotherapy notes or information subject to legal proceedings, this right promotes transparency and patient involvement in their healthcare.


3. Right to amend

Under HIPAA, patients can request amendments or corrections to their health records if they believe the information is inaccurate or incomplete. 

To request an amendment, patients typically need to submit a written request to the covered entity, specifying the information they believe should be amended and providing a reason for the request. The covered entity must respond within a specified timeframe, either agreeing to the amendment or providing a justification for denial. While healthcare providers can deny amendment requests if they determine the information is accurate and complete, patients have the right to include a statement of disagreement in their records.


4. Right to restrict use and disclosure

Patients can request restrictions on specific uses or disclosures of their PHI, such as limiting the information shared with certain healthcare providers or prohibiting its use for marketing purposes. Covered entities must assess the feasibility of accommodating these requests, considering the potential impact on healthcare delivery and compliance with legal requirements. Although restrictions may not always be feasible, patients should be actively involved in discussions about their privacy preferences with their healthcare providers.


5. Right to confidential communications

HIPAA grants patients the right to request confidential communications with their healthcare providers. This right acknowledges the sensitive nature of health information and the importance of maintaining privacy during communication. Patients can request alternative means of communication or specify a particular location for communication to ensure confidentiality.

Healthcare providers are obligated to accommodate reasonable requests for confidential communications whenever possible. By exercising this right, individuals can safeguard their health information and protect sensitive matters from unauthorized access.

RelatedHIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide


6. Right to accounting of disclosures

Patients have the right to receive an accounting of certain disclosures of their PHI made by covered entities over a specified period. This includes disclosures beyond treatment, payment, and healthcare operations. The purpose of this right is to enhance transparency and allow patients to track the flow of their health information.


7. Right to file a complaint

In the event of a potential HIPAA violation, patients have the right to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Patients can file complaints if they believe their privacy rights have been violated or if they have concerns about a covered entity's practices. The OCR provides various methods for filing complaints, including online submissions, mail, or fax. 


8. Right to breach notification

Patients have the right to be promptly notified of a breach of their unsecured PHI. Covered entities must notify affected individuals, the media in certain cases, and the OCR. This right ensures that individuals can take appropriate action, such as monitoring their accounts and protecting themselves from potential harm resulting from a breach.

Understanding these HIPAA patient rights, such as the right to access, amend, and restrict the use of PHI, empowers patients to take control of their health information. 

Related: Understanding and implementing HIPAA rules

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