As a responsible physician, you may worry about the potential effects of giving your patients electronic access to their medical images. However, many of these fears aren’t justified by the facts. If you’re worried about the dangers of giving your patients access to medical imaging studies, the following may help to put your mind at ease.
The benefits of electronic medical records have been documented extensively. Having a complete set of patient information at the point of diagnosis or treatment eliminates the need to re-test, reduces treatment errors and streamlines health care processes. This complete record includes medical images, such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, ultrasounds and other diagnostic studies which are essential to helping physicians build a complete picture of the state of a patient's health.
Radiologic technologists, or "rad techs" as they are often called, play a key role in the medical imaging supply chain, and they are often the people within the practice who take a hands-on, active role with the technology. They're also responsible for making sure medical imaging is of a high quality, and that it arrives in the correct hands. Recent technology advancements have improved their ability to share medical imaging electronically, greatly improving their workflow.
So how has this process improved and how are radiologic technologists taking advantage of electronic image sharing?
Apart from being disrespectful of the patient's privacy, sharing medical images in a HIPAA-noncompliant fashion can expose you to large fines and potentially criminal liability. But what exactly constitutes a HIPAA violation? In theory, the nature of HIPAA violations is straightforward: sharing what's considered to be private health information with someone who's not supposed to receive it.
But from this simple definition, HIPAA violations can take many forms: exposing a patient's medical images to a vendor who does not have a Business Associates Agreement (BAA), sharing images with a family member or spouse without the patient's written consent, losing a laptop computer or cell phone containing protected medical information, or even forwarding a medical image to the wrong email address.
So what are the guidelines for not violating HIPAA, and what steps can you take to reduce your risk even further?