There’s no HIPAA for cats, by the way

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Margaret C. Scavotto, JD, CHC
President, Management Performance Associates

Last week, my husband and our five-year-old daughter took our dog to the vet for a check-up. When they came home, my five-year-old was very excited to tell me that she got to talk to Dr. Julie about Abby’s tooth cleaning and Jack’s nail trimming.

Abby and Jack are my mother’s cats, who, in case it isn’t obvious, also see Dr. Julie.

I was astounded! Until my husband reminded me: “There’s no HIPAA for cats, Margaret.”

That’s right. Of course!

But this got me thinking. If Abby and Jack were people, we would have a pretty big problem on our hands. My mother lives four minutes away. So do my nephews. So do my aunt and uncle. There’s some overlap in doctors and dentists in our family (in addition to veterinarians). We bump into each other all over town.

And yet, thanks to HIPAA, we all expect and trust that our medical information will be kept private. Can you imagine it any other way? Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if everyone discussed everyone else’s tooth cleanings and nail trimmings all over town, as if we were cats?

Aristotle said what separates humans from the animals is rationality. I think it’s HIPAA, too.

16 COMMENTS

  1. As HIPAA privacy officer, it is a great lesson. Would you be willing to give me permission to put this in our newsletter? I work at a hospital by the way and though we do well, a cute story like this is a lesson but not badgering like I sometimes think we do regarding HIPAA privacy. Thanks!

  2. As HIPAA is predicated on the sharing of electronic information, it would not apply to veterinarians. There are no 3rd party payer systems (think Medicare and Medicaid) for veterinarians. So, while many veterinary practices utilize EMRs, there is no need for sharing the information or incorporating standardized payment systems. Some veterinary groups are pushing for standardized procedure codes, but this is a voluntary effort given the lack of a 3rd party payer system. Pet insurance is generally indemnity insurance where clients send the insurer a receipt for reimbursement after the procedure.

    The majority of states have privacy laws applicable to veterinarians that prohibit the sharing of client and patient information without authorization. So, please do not take the fact that HIPAA does not apply to veterinarians, in combination with this single veterinarian’s actions, to mean that veterinarians are not bound by privacy laws nor have a lack of regard for patient privacy in general. All the veterinarians I know take client and patient privacy very seriously.

    • Stacy, Thank you for taking the time to weigh in with this important reminder. My blog was meant to be a light-hearted statement on the benefits of HIPAA and I intended no disparagement toward the veterinarian community. One of the reasons I love our vet is because of their regard for privacy. And if there was HIPAA for cats, our vet would have been well within the bounds of the law for discussing my mother’s cats with my daughter, given the amount of times my mother has brought my daughter to the vet with her cats. As an animal lover and HIPAA enthusiast, I value privacy in the human and animal realms – just as doctors and veterinarians do.

  3. We were disappointed in the MACRA MIPS incentive payments. But, we would be doing the quality improvement work anyway. And we use Medcurity for the Security Risk Analysis, so that’s easy to manage. Submitting the data was OK through the EHR – only a couple hiccups.

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