Whenever you go to the hospital, every doctor, nurse, therapist or other medical professional that is involved in your care generates a large number of medical records. These records are a vital part of any medical malpractice lawsuit and often total thousands of pages. Medical records serve as a window into the minute details that are often crucial in explaining why a medical procedure may have gone wrong. For example, when a patient is hooked up to monitor, every blood pressure reading, heart fluctuation or oxygen level is recorded, often on a minute-by-minute basis. This allows for the ability to track causes and their effects and pinpoint the precise moment that something may have changed. If a patient’s heart rate unexpectedly drops, it is very important to look at the portion of the medical records surrounding the decreasing heart rate to figure out exactly what may have happened to explain the change.
With all of that said, medical records are very private documents. They often contain information and medical history that is personal and therefore should only be seen by a doctor, the patient or a representative authorized by the patient to view their records. In order to protect this patient privacy, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996. The HIPAA law regulates the use of protected health information by ensuring that this information remains private and is not shared with third parties. Protected health information is broadly defined as any portion of a patient’s medical record or billing information. Continue reading