What is a HIPAA Waiver?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A HIPAA waiver is a legal document in the United States that allows doctors to communicate with specifically named individuals about someone's health history and current health situation. Without such authorization, doctors are legally barred from discussing anything about a patient with third parties, including family members. Such forms are necessary in a variety of settings and patients can control how much information will be released and who will be able to access health information.

A HIPAA waiver is a legal document that allows US doctors to communicate with specifically named individuals about someone's health history and current health situation.
A HIPAA waiver is a legal document that allows US doctors to communicate with specifically named individuals about someone's health history and current health situation.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), passed in 1996, includes a number of measures designed to protect patient privacy. Legislators were concerned about the increasing digitization of medical records and the potential for vulnerabilities such as the potential to transmit medical records to a third party without a patient's consent. HIPAA contains very strict rules designed to protect patient privacy and to allow patients to control how and when information about them is released.

A HIPAA waiver allows the medical facility to share the patient's health information with another party.
A HIPAA waiver allows the medical facility to share the patient's health information with another party.

One situation where a HIPAA waiver might be needed is when someone retains an attorney to assist with a problem related to medical care. Legally, the attorney cannot access the patient's records without a waiver granting the attorney permission to review the records. Patients can grant a full waiver, allowing for complete access, or a partial waiver, limiting access to a partial review only.

A HIPAA waiver may be used to allow an approved third-party to discuss another's medical records with a doctor.
A HIPAA waiver may be used to allow an approved third-party to discuss another's medical records with a doctor.

Waivers are also used to allow health care proxies to discuss someone's medical condition with doctors. Without the waiver, the proxy would not be allowed to discuss the prognosis or to get other information about the patient's condition, making it very challenging to make decisions. HIPAA waivers are often recommended to people as a part of estate planning and planning for a proxy, to be prepared in the event of incapacitation.

An HIPAA waiver must be signed in order to take part in a clinical trial or any other kind of medical study.
An HIPAA waiver must be signed in order to take part in a clinical trial or any other kind of medical study.

Another situation where a HIPAA waiver is needed is when medical records are released to a new physician, with patients being asked to sign a medical records request to indicate their consent for release of the records. Likewise, when people enroll in clinical trials and other medical studies, they must sign a HIPAA waiver to allow researchers to access their medical records. If participants are not willing to sign the waiver, they may be dropped from the study, as researchers need to be able to evaluate the complete medical histories of their subjects.

Generic HIPAA waiver forms are available online. These forms include boxes people can check to indicate the kind of information to be released, along with blanks for names of the people who are authorized to access medical records.

Without an HIPAA waiver, a patient's proxy can not discuss a prognosis with the doctor.
Without an HIPAA waiver, a patient's proxy can not discuss a prognosis with the doctor.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

strawCake

@SZapper - That's interesting. My boyfriend actually signed a HIPAA waiver when he was in the hospital recently. He was pretty sick with meningitis and he wanted the doctors to be able to keep me appraised of the situation.

The whole thing was really scary, but it would have been scarier if I didn't know what was going on! I'm glad HIPAA waivers are available.

SZapper

My mom used to work as a paralegal for a lawyer who specialized in personal injury cases. Part of her job was getting people to sign these HIPAA waivers so the law office could proceed with their case!

My mom said it was usually pretty easy to get clients to consent, but every now and then someone would make a fuss. It's a catch-22 though. They wanted the lawyer to handle their case, but they didn't want to give him too much information!

Sometimes it would turn out the client was hiding something when they didn't want to sign the form though. The office would usually take that as a sign to pay really close attention to that client!

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