The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 to protect the privacy and confidentiality of patients’ health information. Unfortunately, it has also created a potentially deadly situation in sports medicine.
It is imperative that coaches, athletic trainers and team physicians have complete medical information on every athlete. HIPAA has unintentionally created an obstacle to the free exchange of health records.
Professional athletes agree to release all medical information as part of their contractual obligation. In boxing, a fighter must allow free access to medical data before being allowed to fight in any jurisdiction. The health records shared among various state boxing commissions have avoided many disasters.
College athletes are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that allows for the free flow of records within their educational institution.
Ironically, it is high school and youth sports athletes who are most impacted by this obstruction. In an effort to protect the rights of young athletes, many have been left vulnerable due to incomplete medical information regarding medical conditions, allergies and prescribed drugs.
Typically, the breakdown occurs between school health officials and athletic trainers. Athletic trainers are the conduit between coaches and health providers. Often, athletic trainers are employed by entities contracted to provide services to a school. This business relationship has mistakenly been interpreted as an obstacle.
“As we improve communication and protect patients’ privacy, HIPAA was never intended to compromise the communication among care givers,” said Glenn Stadnick, Corporate Compliance and Privacy Officer at Backus Hospital.
Penalties for violating HIPAA have only been levied when the information is used for malicious intent or financial gain.
Parents can protect their children by making sure they directly provide the athletic trainer or youth coach with accurate, complete medical information.