"Hospital staff says it helps avoid that `awkward HIPAA moment' when they have to stop and think about how much information they can share," says Tom Hills, vice president of market development for Chicago-based TLContact, which operates CarePages, a company offering patient-developed Web sites. Provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 have made provider disclosure of patients' health status much more complicated.
Ann Converso, vice president of the United American Nurses union, acknowledged that these "HIPAA moments" do occur and said she welcomes anything that can help relieve this awkwardness. "I haven't heard it termed that way, but I like it," she says. "People call all the time and say `This is Joe Schmoe's first cousin. How's he doing?' But unless the person speaking is authorized to get (clinical) information, that's a HIPAA problem."
A couple of healthcare organizations in my area have implemented web portals with very good results. The usual caveats apply--- if you are ging to do this, great care must be taken with making it secure and user-friendly.