Last week I shared about receiving an unsettling phone call where an unidentified woman from the doctor's office refused to speak with me about my daughter's care.
The voice sounded like one of the nurses, so I called and left a message on the nurse line. When the nurse returned my call, she informed me the referral department had called. Since my daughter was now 16, she would have to sign a HIPAA form for information to be given to anyone but her.
So why had the rest of the office been discussing her care with me for the last three months since she turned 16? The explanation: Since the referral person isn't familiar with us, she followed the rules when she didn't see the form in the chart.
My next phone call was to the office manager. I explained the factors that made for such a disturbing situation when the referral department phoned. To her credit, the office manager handled my complaint well. She explained the reasons behind HIPAA -- calmly, slowly and softly. The office has a policy in place: The nurses are supposed to have a conversation with a patient on the first visit after her 16th birthday.
The office manager shared that she'd had trouble with follow-through in the past and planned to address it again. I suggested a form letter might be more effective. The letter could be sent around the patient's 16th birthday with information about the change in status and instructions on completing the form. A computer program could notify office staff when letters needed to be mailed. She wasn't interested.
She followed with an apology, saying adherence to the HIPAA policy should include common sense. To that end, she would have a discussion with the referral person. She explained withholding sensitive medical information would have been justified, but there was no reason the referral department shouldn't have given me appointment information.
Why is she not employing common sense in her own office procedures? If her desired policy has failed in the past and continues to fail, why not change the policy to one that is likely to have a higher success rate? Do I really want that same common sense deciding when it's OK to break the rules?
More troubling, whose twisted logic decided a 16-year-old has the wisdom to withhold medical information from her parents? My husband's logic: If she's old enough to make her own medical decisions, she's old enough to pay for them. They could include us in her medical care without a signature; or they could bill her directly for their fees, releasing us from any further responsibility.
If anyone knows the history behind this medical law, please share. I'd also be interested to hear your opinions on 16 being the legal age of medical consent.