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HIPAA for Health Care Professionals

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Since its enactment in 1996, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act have had a profound impact in various domains of the United States healthcare system. Its main role is to protect the privacy of protected health information. This law establishes guidelines that control the sharing of protected health information. Chemical dependency counselors, just like other health professionals collect medical information as well as demographic information from individuals who use their services. This information is classified as Protected Healthcare Information (PHI) which contains “individually identifiable health information” (Root, 2002). PHI includes demographic information such as an individual’s contacts, address, national security number, gender and date of birth in addition to healthcare information.  PHI can be communicated in any form; written, spoken, electronically, etc. This paper expresses my views on the HIPPA rules apply to documentation in the field of chemical dependency counseling.

Client record

The HIPPA rules require that counselors establish and maintain a client record for every client at the instance of first service delivery. The client record should contain demographic information that identifies the client. After the initial service delivery, the counselor should record the assessment results which include the diagnosis, the client’s statement of their problem and the care plan. Further, there should be documentation of all services provided and their times, duration, delivery modes and the state of the client during the time of services discontinuation. There are requirements that counselors maintain a record of al payments received form clients and the charges billed to the counselors (Krager & Krager, 2008). These entries should be authenticated. In the case of electronic records, a digital authentication key should be used to authenticate the records. Corrections of entries are required to be marked through with a single line and signed by the counselor.

In my view, the stringent record keeping requirements are necessary to avoid documentation problems in the course of the counselor’s engagement with a client. These rules ensure that documentations are accurate and reflect on the actual situation. Inaccurate documentation is potentially detrimental to the success of a client’s treatment plan. In situations where a change of counselor occurs, accurate information should be passed to the next counselor. In case of inaccurate documentation, the counseling plan can be wrongly administered to the client resulting into wastage of time, resources and efforts. Worse still, the customer is left in a worse state than he/she was in before the counseling sessions. The problem of improper documentation is especially harmful to the chemical dependency counseling field due to the nature of psychological treatment plans that require good planning and continuity.

Privacy protection

HIPAA rules require that the counselor protects client information from unauthorized disclosure. The HIPAA rules stipulate that the client and the counselor have to sign HIPAA agreement papers before commencement of their sessions. The papers are a statement of privacy practices of the facility where the counselor operates. This statement specifies how the counselor can use the information provided in the client’s personal file. It also specifies third parties that are allowed to use this information, if any. The counselor and medical staff under him/her are required to sign the agreement at least once annually as an assurance of their awareness of privacy laws, their understanding of the same and their readiness to upholding these laws.

In my view, the protection of privacy as provisioned in the HIPAA laws is very important to the client and the entire medical fraternity. Ensuring that this information is only used for the correct purposes that do not jeopardize the normality of clients’ life is of paramount importance. If shared, chemical dependency issues might lead to unfair discriminations from various quarters of life such as employment and education. People with addictions can be helped out of their predicaments with proper counseling and guidance. It is therefore unfair to expose such persons to discriminatory treatment that might result from sharing of their personal and medical information. Therefore the HIPAA rules are important in protecting people with chemical dependency issue. They ensure that such people are protected by the law and they get a chance to live just like other people while dealing with their addiction problems.

Other issues surrounding HIPAA

In addition to client record and protection of private information, there are other issues surrounding HIPAA laws and chemical dependency counseling services. The requirement that counselors keep all the client data helps in coordination of that client’s healthcare with other specialists if need when need arises. Such coordination would not be quick enough and efficient if proper client records are not properly kept. This is also helpful in sharing of information with family and friends, and other people that clients deem necessary.

There is a need to ensure that HIPAA rules do not hinder the sharing of medical and personal information where it is necessary to do so for various reasons. For instance, a family discovered that their old neighbor was exhibiting signs of mental breakdowns. On taking him to the hospital, treatment was administered to him and since his neighbors were not legally allowed to access his health and personal information, they had to leave him under the care of healthcare providers. With time they could not trace the old man, and despite their goodwill, they were kept away from helping their old neighbor. I therefore find it necessary for HIPAA laws to be amended to allow such concerned parties have access to specific client information, as long as their sincerity can be verified.

In conclusion, I believe that the documentation requirements as imposed by the HIPAA rules are largely beneficial, not only to the client but also to other concerned parties. It enhances quick and efficient counseling services and privacy protection for chemical dependency counseling services.

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