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The world according to HIPAA


In his quest to comply with HIPAA, New York City urologist Jon Owen Marks figures he'll need to send the following letter to his referring physicians.


The world according to HIPAA

In his quest to comply with HIPAA, New York City urologist Jon Owen Marks figures he'll need to send the following letter to his referring physicians.

Dear Dr. _______________,

I'm writing to report on the patient you referred to me for a urologic consultation. Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to mention his name, but you know who I mean: He's the tall gentlemen with the urological condition that, alas, I'm also not allowed to identify. But I'm sure you know which condition I'm referring to.

In any event, the patient's symptoms began while traveling to an undisclosed location where this condition is endemic, perhaps because of a bacterial infestation of the water supply. You should warn your other patients to avoid this area.

His physical examination was remarkable for a rash in certain places—which regulations now prevent me from specifying. But you know where I mean.

Certain blood tests confirmed my diagnostic impression, but, as you know, I can't tell you what those tests are or what diagnostic impression they confirmed.

I have started the patient on appropriate medications, but since I couldn't put the patient's real name on the prescription, these medications may never have been purchased. This will certainly compromise their effectiveness.

My office will contact the patient in two weeks for repeat blood tests and cultures. Actually, we would have called the patient but his number is unlisted and your office, as you know, is prohibited from making it available to us. So, may I ask that you please call you know who just to be on the safe side?

At this time, the patient is highly contagious, but, at his request, we're withholding all sensitive medical information from the principal of the school where he works.

I understand that the patient is applying for life insurance. I will be happy to forward the contents of this letter to the underwriter, removing, of course, all references to his specific condition.

I look forward to continued participation in this patient's care. Thank you for the courtesy of this referral.


Jon Marks. The world according to HIPAA. Medical Economics Nov. 7, 2003;80:63.

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