A key skill you need to be a medical coder in any hospital or physician’s office is an understanding of a federal law known as the Health Information Portability and Accounting Act or “HIPAA.” Designed to protect the rights of patients and insure that their medical records are kept confidential, the HIPAA governs how a medical provider must respond when a patient asks for his or her medical records, and how any request for patient information from an insurance company must be handled.
The past few decades have seen an explosion in the complexity of medical care, medical record keeping and information needs of insurance companies. The HIPAA covers any medical information that a doctor, nurse or therapist places in a patient’s file, including billing information, history and diagnostic notes and even conversations between medical specialists about the patient.
To comply with HIPAA, you’ll need to know the unique identification codes for medical procedures, the tech safeguards for privacy, electronic signature rules and more. Failing to follow HIPAA rules can damage your career and even result in sanctions against the doctor or clinic you are working for, so it’s important to learn them completely. Patients who feel their privacy rights are violated can file a complaint through the U S Department of Health and Human Services.
A few key points you will study about HIPAA in virtually any medical coding degree program:
- Patient information that’s protected by HIPAA include patient’s name, diagnosis, medications prescribed and procedures done.
- Medical providers must give patients their medical records within 30 days of a patient asking for them.
- Life insurance companies, lending banks and other companies can only be given a patient’s medical information if the patient signs an authorization form giving permission to have the data released.
- Physicians, hospitals and other care providers can only share patients’ information while they are actually treating them.
- Patients have a right to ask that all communications with a doctor or hospital are confidential. In many cases that means the patient can ask a doctor to call them to discuss diagnosis and treatment at home rather than at work where part of a conversation may be overheard.
- A privacy notice must be given to all patients by healthcare providers telling them how their health information may be used, and the patients must sign it.
Working From Home
From the standpoint of your own work situation, it’s also good to be very up to date on HIPAA, because it governs how much of your coding work you can do from your home. Many medical coders enjoy an ability to do some or all of their work from home on a computer. But in order to do so, you must understand the very strict rules that exist about taking any protected health information on a patient out of a doctor’s office to code it in from another location.
More on getting the right degree and certification to become a medical coder here.