Missing the HIPPA Mark

I apologize for being unable to come up with my usual pithy yet insightful yet whimsical alliterative title for this post. If you can find a relevant alliteration to go along with “HIPPA,” I’d love to hear it.

Here’s an equation that I recently developed while sitting in a medical waiting room. See if you can solve it.

LTP + LTR + WRT + PI = X,

where LT is “Loud Talker”, WR is “Waiting Room,” and PI is “Patient Interview.”

You’ve probably guessed already that the sum of those variables somehow relates to HIPAA*, the wonderful legislation that has resulted in the untimely deaths of millions of trees and trillions of pixels since its passage in 1996. I haven’t the slightest idea of everything contained in HIPAA**, but if you’re like me, you basically view it as something which is supposed to protect the privacy of our health information <cynicism>by making it inaccessible to everyone who really needs it.</cynicism>

Anyway, back to the amusing [to me] incident that led to this post. In the equation above, X is HIPPAvāˆž or if you prefer, a violation of all known and unknown HIPAA privacy-related provisions. [Note: IANAL]

This equation may be used in a number of situations, but it was particularly applicable last week when, instead of taking the patient back to an office or exam room, a receptionist interviewed him in the 12’x12′ waiting room full of other people in order to complete the medical information forms that should have been done ahead of the appointment. They were both loud talkers and there was no apparent reason for this approach as the patient was of sound mind as evidenced by an earlier cell phone call he took. He did try to do us a favor by turning to face the wall while he shouted into his phone, but the consequence was an amplification phenomenon that yielded the opposite result of what I assume he intended.

As a result, I (and everyone else in the room) had access to the following information about this patient:

  • his marital status
  • his medication list
  • his medical history, including recent surgeries
  • his symptoms for current visit to the clinic
  • his insurance.

Now, realistically, no harm was done. I don’t know the guy, I can’t remember his name, nor can I remember the details of any of the preceding data. It’s really just the principle of the thing.

If you’re ever in this situation, as the interviewee, I suggest developing a baby-is-sleeping-next-to-us inside voice, or asking that the conversation move to another room away from eavesdropping ears. Better yet, just do the dang paperwork before you arrive at the office. Otherwise, you might end up in a Seinfeld episode***.

*In doing my usual extensive research for this article, i.e. looking at one Wikipedia listing, I learned that the acronym I’m accustomed to using — HIPPA — is technically inaccurate and its usage really ticks off some of the bureaucrats. So, keep on using it.

**If you’d like to read it, here’s the 349 page PDF in all of its inscrutable glory.

***I know, they’re not still making Seinfeld eps. Just work with me here, OK?


  1. How about loud talking in restaurants? This has to be my all-time pet peeve-talking (screaming, actually) and laughing so loud that even people outside can hear the entire conversation.

  2. All-time pet peeve? Even more so than people not using turn signals or people who think their car stereos are divine gifts to the world or who put A-1 on filet mignons or who misinterpret Biblical prophecies?!
    But I agree…it’s highly annoying. That’s why I feel a little guilty for doing it myself…but our jokes REALLY ARE FUNNY! šŸ˜Ž

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