Greetings my esteemed colleagues,

Recently I have found myself thinking quite a bit about communications and the growing lack of peer-to-peer communication. This lack of communication makes my work and caring for my patients even more complicated.

Throughout my career I have tried to foster supportive, meaningful relationships with my fellow physicians, which is one of the reasons I have remained so active with the King County Medical Society and the Washington State Medical Association. I find that when we make the effort to take a few extra steps to work together, we deliver far better care for our patients.

One easy way to open communications to improve health care is to urge their medical records staff and hospital staff to thoroughly understand the HIPAA laws, which are far too commonly misinterpreted by many in health care. As a physician, it is extremely disconcerting for me to call the ICU regarding a patient of mine, only to have the on-duty nurse refuse to give me any information, citing HIPAA laws. The intent of the law is not to block physician collaboration, and that is what the misinformation of HIPAA laws is doing. The INTENT of the law was focused on insurance. HIPAA legislation initially enacted was to ensure that employees would continue to receive health insurance coverage when between jobs. HIPAA had nothing to do with limiting physician communication. Later the HIPAA legislation-imposed controls meant to secure patient data to prevent healthcare fraud, and required healthcare organizations to adopt the standards to reduce the administrative burdens. But again, the HIPAA legislation made no attempt to prevent physician collaboration or information sharing.

Our CEO Nancy Belcher shares this simple snapshot and link to a deeper dive into these murky HIPAA waters. Maybe you can keep in your back pocket if there are any questions about the current HIPAA regulations:

“Some people assume that HIPAA controls that keep patient digital patient information private and secure will compromise care. This is not the case. Different physicians can share information related to a patient’s care without specific written permission. The “minimum necessary concept” that applies to payment, operations, and research does not apply to treatment of patients when physicians communicate. Healthcare providers should exercise professional judgment (… and in the best interest of the patient) when deciding with whom to share patient care information, such as family members, when patients cannot communicate their preferences”

I would also encourage specialists to better communicate with physicians who are referring patients to their practices. For over 20 years, not a day has gone by where I don’t find myself asking for notes from physicians that I have made referrals to so I can update the patient chart on medications and properly care for my patients.

We are all stretched thin. But if we simply sent each other notes or picked-up the phone as a matter of course, we can quickly and easily keep each other informed and efficiently provide the best possible care to our patients, and make all of our hectic lives a little easier for each other.


Teresa Girolami, MD

President/King County Medical Society