My Pharmacist and Me: How California Pharmacists Can Help Protect Patient Privacy

As pharmacists prepare to step into the ring of providing sensitive family planning services to their patients, it is important to brush up on patient confidentiality strategies, especially as they pertain to teens.

But wait…isn’t that what HIPAA is for?

Well yes… but wait there’s more! Once the statewide protocol for pharmacy access to hormonal contraception gets approved in California, pharmacists are likely to see teens pursue this option as a confidential, convenient way to get effective birth control. As a pharmacist, you should know that in the State of California, minors are allowed to obtain birth control without parental consent. In fact, you legally cannot discuss any family planning issues with a minor’s parents without the patient’s written permission. While you should encourage teens to keep open communication lines with their parents, you need to respect their decision if they choose to keep their sexual health a private matter. Knowing that they can trust their pharmacist to keep their healthcare private is VERY important to teens and they would benefit from being assured that you will keep their information confidential.

How does the ACA affect patient privacy?

The Affordable Care Act not only expanded insurance coverage for young adults through their parent’s plan up to age 26, it also provided complete coverage for birth control for women. This brings up an important dilemma, patients may now have expanded coverage for birth control, but they may be afraid to access it because of privacy concerns. While you have provider-patient confidentiality laws to adhere to, the insurance companies do not have to keep it confidential. This means that if your patient uses her insurance to cover her birth control, but her parent or spouse is the policy holder, then the insurance company could send billing information that reveals services obtained to that policy holder.

keepitconfidential birth control pregnancy test STD teen insurance pharmacy pharmacist

How can I make sure my insurance company keeps my health information confidential?

In California, a law was passed that allows dependents to fill out a Confidential Communications Request form to prevent insurance companies from sending potentially revealing information to the policy holder. Instead information specified in the form will be sent directly to the patient by either email or an alternate mailing address as requested by the dependent. More information for patients and providers can be found at myhealthmyinfo.org.

How can pharmacists help?

This is an important counseling point for pharmacists to review with patients.  Cost can become a big barrier to access when patients do not feel comfortable using their insurance and have to resort to paying out of pocket.  Since this is a new law, pharmacists can help spread the word and direct patients to the website for more information and the form.  Pharmacists should always be aware of their state laws regarding serving minors and confidentiality.


Courtney HeadshotAbout the Author:  

Courtney Miller is in her second year of pharmacy school at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. 

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