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BEACON Senior News

Your secret’s out: when HIPAA fails

Aug 23, 2021 10:31AM ● By Laverne Bardy
Medical logo for HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

I can’t bear starting with a new doctor. Every time I do, I’m forced to fill out countless sheets of paper. And, because I’ve had the misfortune to have countless surgeries, be on numerous medications, and have an extensive list of medical conditions, I’m further punished by having to fill out 10 pages of information the doctor insists he needs but won’t find legible by the time he reaches the eighth page of my angry scribbles.

The last doctor I had to do this for exceeded his boundaries when his questionnaire requested information about my parent’s parents and grandparents. I answered by drawing a huge question mark across the page. My grandparents as well as my parents have been gone for many decades. Since they all died young, I have no idea what I inherited from them until I end up on a gurney.

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act created in 1996 largely to update the flow of one’s health care information. This is the sheet of paper you sign when you visit doctors, which assures you that your health history should be protected from fraud and theft and will forever be your and their secret.

Unfortunately, not everyone cares about the sanctity of health-related confidences, or reasonable facsimiles, as demonstrated below.

I was parked at a supermarket when a car pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down her window, stuck her head out, and shouted to a woman crossing in front of her, who was headed for the market’s entrance.

“Jodi, Jodi. Hi, it’s me, Kendra, from AA. How ya’ doing? You look great. We missed you at Tuesday’s meeting. Hope I’ll see you this Tuesday. You know how important these meetings are.”

Poor Jodi had started to walk to Kendra’s car, but upon hearing Kendra’s careless words, pivoted and flew into the market. So much for sensitivity, indiscretion, confidentiality and intelligence.

A number of years ago, with the goal of checking whether or not I had diverticulitis, I was instructed by my doctor to not eat, among other things, nuts. When I returned, two weeks later, I assured him I’d been following his directions. He examined my belly and, to our shock, he found a pine nut in my navel. (So much for hygiene.) 

I was humiliated and explained that I had, indeed, grabbed a handful of pine nuts that were on the counter awaiting a cookie recipe I was preparing to make that evening. How one had managed to escape and made it through my belt, slacks waistband and underwear was short of a miracle.

The doctor couldn’t stop laughing and called in his nurse to share in his laughter, while I feigned a smile and pretended to find humor in the situation.

As I left his inner office and walked through the reception area, all six nurses turned, looked at me and giggled. So much for HIPAA. I wonder how long it took before the story about the crazy lady who stored nuts in her navel reached his golf buddies.


Laverne Bardy is the author of “How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? And Other Catastrophes That Attack and Assault When Your Back is Turned.” Email her at [email protected]


In contrast, check out Top 10 signs of a good doctor