HIPAA Hoopla

So someone at work anonymously posted the following NYT article
at work the other day, with pertinent sections highlighted. It addressed the culture of secrecy and frustration in the health care community since HIPAA has been ridiculously overinterpreted. This panic has been going on since about 2000. Even when it would benefit a patient, I can't talk to their relatives or partners who *regularly attend appointments with them* without a signed release "because of HIPAA." Check this out:

Hipaa was designed to allow Americans to take their health insurance coverage with them when they changed jobs, with provisions to keep medical information confidential. But new studies have found that some health care providers apply Hipaa regulations overzealously, leaving family members, caretakers, public health and law enforcement authorities stymied in their efforts to get information.

Experts say many providers do not understand the law, have not trained their staff members to apply it judiciously, or are fearful of the threat of fines and jail terms — although no penalty has been levied in four years.

Some reports blame the language of the law itself, which says health care providers may share information with others unless the patient objects, but does not require them to do so. Thus, disclosures are voluntary and health care providers are left with broad discretion.

The unnecessary secrecy is a “significant problem,” said Mark Rothstein, chairman of a privacy subcommittee that advises the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Hipaa. “It’s drummed into them that there are rules they have to follow without any perspective,” he said about health care providers. “So, surprise, surprise, they approach it in a defensive, somewhat arbitrary and unreasonable way.”

I have believed what I've been told about HIPAA requirements, but apparently the extent of the law has been exaggerated. We take HIPAA privacy so far that we aren't even allowed to use full patient names in our internal emails to need to know staff. It's not like I'm going to argue with our corporate compliance officer, who can fire me. But it's good even in the abstract to know that the law isn't as short sighted and harmful as we've all been led to believe.