A Marijuana Patient is Most Importantly A Patient

[ Dr. Damas is an A4C ambassador and former linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. After his professional football career, Dr. Damas received his MD. He now currently practices medicinal cannabis in Miami, FL ]

A Marijuana Patient is Most Importantly A Patient.

What does that cryptic sentence even mean? Well, It’s quite simple; patients have rights and protections and being a medical marijuana patient doesn’t mean you lose those rights. Whaaaa you say??? Yep, you read that correctly. YOU HAVE RIGHTS. If you’re surprised, don’t be- it’s not a novel idea. As a matter of fact there’s a little ol document floating around called The Bill of Rights, which explains what those are. As time progressed laws were enacted to further define and protect those rights.

These laws protect your right to privacy, they define what belongs to you, they give guidelines on the repercussions of violating your right- but most of all, they protect YOU. There are many laws on the books from the local level to the federal level which protect the privacy of the patient (you) regardless of what the treatment is. Your physician is also bound to a code of ethics and an oath she or he pledged as well as by those same laws. For example, if you are an HIV or a cancer patient, your treatments whether they are anti-retroviral drugs, chemotherapy or marijuana is protected information.

Of these laws, the first law you need to familiarize yourself with is The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was enacted in 1996. In a nutshell, it protects patients right to access, control and use their health information. This is the big one you need to know about! HIPAA is a buzzword in the healthcare setting because violating HIPAA statute can bring down the mighty hammer of regulatory officials as well as the good folk from the Department of Health and Human Services. What HIPAA basically says is that your health information is really private top secret stuff. Not only shouldn’t it be shared without your permission, but it should also be kept in such a way that it is difficult for others to access it.

An example of a HIPAA violation would be leaving a sheet lying around on a desk containing patient information where someone could walk by and see it. No big deal you say? What if you are pregnant and want to keep that information to yourself? What if you are HIV positive? What if you are terminally ill and want to keep that information to yourself so as no to burden your family? It’s your right to make those decisions. Just as it’s your right to use cannabis as a medicine- it’s no one else’s business. If someone not involved in your care accesses your medical records, they are violating the law!

Another law that you should know about, but may not be as familiar with is the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). The Hitech act has many provisions relating specifically to the use of electronic medical records (EMR). This covers what constitutes as violations and who has the powers of enforcement. Prior to HITECH, HIPAA violations were under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services (a federal office). Now, they are the jurisdiction of State Attorney General’s Office. Furthermore if there is any conflict between the laws with regards to infractions or enforcement (i.e. dissemination of patient medical records) the HITECH provisions take precedence. This Means in certain circumstances, state laws carry a bit more weight than federal laws. Sound familiar? Good.

In a nutshell, no one who is not directly involved in your care or treatment may access your records. It doesn’t matter if you have a concealed carry permit or have a terminal illness. The people who have access to your medical records cannot disseminate it without your permission and, those people who can disseminate your medical records must act as stewards of that information.

You’re a patient, just like everyone else 🙂

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