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Ask an Expert: Patient Confidentiality at the Pharmacy

Most of us understand that when we speak with our doctor or therapist there is an expectation of confidentiality – we know that what we say will not be repeated. But what about pharmacists? Should patients expect the same sort of relationship?

Because pharmacists often work out of retail locations, this feels like a gray area, but the rules are actually very clear.

Should Patients Expect Confidentiality When Speaking With Their Pharmacist?

Yes, patient confidentiality should be expected from pharmacists just as it would be from any other healthcare provider. This means that information about your prescription, why you are taking it, and any other aspect of your health should be kept private and only shared with others with your permission. Embarrassing sitcom scenes where a pharmacy technician announces your medication loudly in front of other customers are not only inaccurate, they are illegal.

Does HIPAA Apply at the Pharmacy?

Yes. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a federal law that establishes the acceptable uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) , sets standards for the secure storage and transmission of PHI, and gives patients the right to obtain copies of their health information. The penalties for pharmacies failing to comply with HIPAA can be severe.

Can Patients Request a More Private Discussion with Their Pharmacists?

Yes, always. If a pharmacist or pharmacy technician initiates a conversation with you about your medication, you always have the right to request a more private location . Today, most pharmacies have separate counters, privacy rooms, or partitioned areas available for that purpose.

When Can Pharmacies Share Your Health Information?

Generally speaking, pharmacies can only share your health information when they have your permission. Under HIPAA, your healthcare provider may share your information face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing in certain circumstances.

A healthcare provider or health plan may share relevant medical information if one of the following conditions are met:

  • You give your provider or plan permission to share the information.
  • You are present and do not object to sharing the information.
  • You are not present, and the provider determines based on professional judgment that it’s in your best interest.

Most of us ignore the “Privacy Policies” handout given to us by healthcare professionals, but it is worth a quick read. Understanding your rights and how they are protected can help you feel more comfortable when having important discussions about your treatment.

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This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series by Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D, the Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio here.

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