Record Keeping and Patient Privacy in Free Health Clinics

Patient care in free health clinics depends on the workforce of the institution to appreciate the social and economic challenges of their patients. Patient intake practice in free clinics is relatively simple; to make sure that the data entered in the patient intake forms are clear and concise. These clinics also try to ensure that the intake forms are in the language that is commonly used by a major part of the patient population of the particular clinic, if possible.

The patient intake forms of free clinics will request only the basic details of the patients that are necessary to offer safe and effective care to them. The form will also be sensitive to the potentially controversial details of the patient like medical history, lack of healthcare, details of health insurance, etc. Many of the free and low income clinics also use translators who are fluent in the native language of the patient to interact with them in a better way.

Patients visiting the free health clinics should understand that complete and accurate details are necessary to offer effective and safe health care services. Most of the modern free medical clinics will have a system to store the details of the patient in the form of paper or electronic records. These patient records will be having sensitive details of the patient like family history, past medical history, test results, social history, and treatment plans. The key point to note here is that the confidentiality and privacy of the healthcare details is of maximum priority for any healthcare institutions.

In certain instances, healthcare clinics may have to use or disclose details in the medical record of a patient to discuss with other healthcare providers about future or past medical care, transfer patients to some other facility, mandatory reporting to law, and so on. However, the patient records are still kept safe and confidential.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) law by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put forward a standard for the protection and safety of the patient health information. There are about four rules in HIPAA to govern the security and privacy of the Protected Health Information (PHI).

HIPAA rules are for the “Covered Entities” and a free health clinic can be considered a Covered Entity if it bills or receives payment for the healthcare services offered by them. Besides that, they also need to electronically send health data for a covered transaction such as claims, coordination of various benefits, healthcare payment, claim status, etc. to qualify as Covered Entities.