Major Change In Privacy Of Medical Records

It's taken seven years, but starting Monday there are new federal regulations, all meant to keep your personal medical information private.

Getting ready for these new rules has put a lot of stress on healthcare workers, but they say it's all for the good of their patients.

"It's been more far-reaching than what we ever expected," says Chuck Spicer, Chief Operating Officer at U.T. Health Center at Tyler.

It may be just a simple manila folder, but inside is your most private information.

"This medical record belongs to you and the Health Center and no one has any business in it but you," says UTHCT nursing supervisor Tracy Drake.

Now federal law requires it stay your information. The new HIPAA act as it's called, means hospitals and doctors have to go the extra mile to keep information confidential.

"There are some real teeth in that privacy requirement," says Spicer. "You'll never see, in most cases, when you check into a doctor's office -- a sign in sheet. Those were very common a few years ago, but those are things of the past."

In addition, data on computers, fax machines, and on those patient folders can't be in sight.

"We used to just have their charts facing outwards, and their names might be shown. But now, as of today, we have to make sure the chart is facing inwards and that no names can be seen," says Drake.

And even at pharmacies, everyone's keeping their voices down.

"You want to respect the fact that patients coming into a pharmacy have health concerns, and you want to do all you can to ensure that privacy," says Julie Rothrock of Good's Pharmacy in Tyler.

Patients will also have access to most doctors' notes, medical, and billing information -- except in psychotherapy cases. It is more work, but Spicer says, worth it.

"There may be more forms to fill out and more procedures to follow, but this policy is in place to protect patients," he says.

   Morgan Palmer, reporting.