HIPAA and Medical Waste: What’s the Rule?

Personal health information exists on specimen cups and IV bags.  Are these covered as PHI under HIPAA?

Protecting sensitive information is important, particularly in the healthcare industry.  Medical records are full of data that would be an identity thief’s dream come true; names, addresses, social security numbers, health plan information, and so much more.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was passed by Congress in 1996 contains provisions designed to protect patient privacy. Of course, HIPAA isn’t just exclusive to medical records. There’s also personal health information on medical waste devices as well, such as specimen cups, IV bags, and blood collection vessels.

The easiest way to maintain HIPAA compliance when it comes to patient privacy is achieved through these simple steps:

  • Putting someone in charge.
  • Keeping protected health information (PHI) secure and private.
  • Setting up office policy, implementation procedures, and training for your staff.
  • Informing patients of their rights and absolutely support those rights.
  • Limiting access of patient information to businesses outside the practice.

HIPAA privacy and security rights requires medical records to be retained by a provider for at least six years after either the later of the date of creation or the date when last in effect. State laws may require longer holding periods.

HIPAA and Medical Waste: What’s the Rule?

There’s actually a bit of gray area when it comes to specimen cups, which are considered medical waste.  Does a specimen container or vacuum blood container that has a patient’s name on it, qualify as personal health information? Certainly, no test results are recorded on the specimen container.  HIPAA regulations do not specifically instruct health systems how to properly dispose of IV bags and bottles that bear labels identifying a patient’s name and the medication. Unlike paper products, bags and bottles cannot be shredded to destroy a patient’s health information, information that is now considered protected under the privacy rules. Some use black markers to conceal patients’ identifiable information before disposing of IV bags and bottles.

While HIPAA has clear regulations pertaining to PHI in terms of medical records and patient data, regulations for medical waste, at least specimen cups and other items used for patient care, are vague at best. In these instances, taking the conservative route is the best course of action.

All healthcare providers have a legal and ethical obligation to follow HIPAA regulations. Any written material prepared, whether in a document or specimen sample that is then shared, submitted, or distributed, must comply. Unsure of these regulations and how they pertain to you? Let Red Bags show you the way through our compliance training programs and speaking with our expert staff members. Contact us today.

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HIPAA and Medical Waste

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