HIPAA and Me: BFF

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I’m now two weeks into my third year of medical school. It’s been a pretty wild, crazy ride even in such a short timeframe. The world of clinical medicine already has me like a kid in a candy shop: running around asking about everything, overly excited about my surroundings, knocking over the gumball machine, wanting to run back to my mother, and overall being a general nuisance. I already have a ton of adventures, thoughts, and ideas that I want to put down in writing, not only for my own sake, but also for those who read this blog. The world of medicine is a privileged one, and giving readers a keyhole look into that world is what I hope to do.

Notice in that last sentence that I used the analogy of looking through a keyhole, and that comparison was intentional. By reading this blog, you will definitely get to see the innermost workings of my brain; this is likely filled with tiny minions on Segways who are constantly running into each other and have no idea what they are doing. However, you won’t get to see the world exactly through my eyes, and that’s due to something called HIPAA.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is the federal law established in 1996 that protects patient information. That is a very, very abridged explanation of that law. The basic thing is that the relationship between a patient and healthcare provider is nearly sacred. Although it is not quite to the level of a priest in the confessional, anything that a provider learns about a patient is taken with the utmost confidentiality. The main pieces of information that are confidential are any type of identifying information about the patient; this also includes any specific information about their care, disease, prognosis, etc. This information can be shared with other providers as it relates to taking care of that patient, but no farther. It should not leave the hospital or office, and it should definitely not find its way to places like Facebook or blog sites.

I have already seen a multitude of patients with incredible stories, tragic circumstances, fascinating disease processes, and wonderful personalities. I’d love to not only solidify and record what I’ve learned and experienced, but also share some of those ideas and lessons with others. Now that I’m in the place where I have a tangible impact on patient care (and thus access to their information), I have to be careful to be compliant with HIPAA in what I write and share. After a vigorous Google search on the subject, I’ve come to a few conclusions that I want to get out in the open:

1. I will never, under any circumstances, share identifying information about a patient. That should go without saying, but here it is. I said it.

2. Any patient I refer to in this blog, if I even refer to them at all, won’t be entirely real people. Most of the places I’ve looked have dissuaded against even mentioning specific patients in generalities (i.e. “I saw an old main with heart failure today”) or even attempting to make them anonymous. I learned that if someone knows where I’m working and has a bit of determination, they could probably find out who I am referring to with very little sleuthing.

3. If I refer to a patient in any terms, they are made up. I will mention this every time I create a person, but I will use fictional characters, if you will, to illustrate points I am trying to make. While some part of these characters may be a particular disease that one of my patients had, that will be as far as the information goes. For example, I might have had a patient with heart failure once, but I will create a “Jimbob” who has heart failure and has no other characteristics of that patient. I’ll make up a story to fulfill the point I am trying to make. Certain patients I have seen will inspire me to write about their disease or a lesson they taught me, but never about them.

The final thing that most of these “How to not alert the HIPAA police” posts do is state that a blog should not be anonymous. If you want to write something, put your name on it and own it. While this blog will be a place for more than medicine, it will very often be inspired by medicine or include frequent medical posts. I’m going to come out and identify myself, partially so that I have more accountability for what I write, but also to trigger the switch in my mind that everything comes directly back to me because people know who I am.

My name is Brandon Wojcik, and I am now a third year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine. At the time of this post, I’m 24 years old and now live in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. This blog will hopefully survive as I go through my years (unless I get freaked out about my online presence and delete it), and provide a valuable perspective and a way for my patients to learn more about medicine and myself. In general, I’m fairly meticulous about my online presence and how much information people can find about me using Google, but on this one I’ve decided it’s best to be out in the open. So, there you have it folks. HIPAA compliance assured, it’s time to jump fully into my third year. I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I do.

-Brandon

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