Part 2: Basic Patient Rights (FAQ 16 of 65)
Right to a Notice of Privacy Practices
16. What Are the Forms that My Doctor's Office Asks Me to Sign?
The rule generally requires a health care provider to make a good faith effort to obtain an acknowledgement that each patient received the notice. Some people think that it is a dumb requirement and a paperwork burden, but that's what the rule says. Signing a standard acknowledgement does not waive your rights.
You do not have to sign the acknowledgement. Your rights do not change if you sign or don't sign. However, the requirement for a signature is poorly understood. Some receptionists think that a signature is mandatory, and they will hassle you if you don't sign. Some will tell you that you must sign or you can't see the doctor. That is wrong.
You can fight about signing the acknowledgement if you want. We suggest, however, that this isn't a fight worth having. Save your energy for another battle. The acknowledgement -- if that is all that the form contains -- is meaningless. If you see something on the form that you don't like, you can just cross it out. Odds are that no one will even look at what you did.
We hear that some doctors are asking patients to sign broader forms that limit the ability of patients to file malpractice suits, that prevent patients from talking about the doctor to other people or on the Internet, or do accomplish other things that benefit the doctor and not the patient. We suggest being very careful about signing these types of documents.
WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW:
When you visit your doctor's office for the first time, someone should offer you a copy of the doctor's notice. You may be offered the same notice on each visit because many offices find it easier to give every patient a notice on every visit rather than keeping track of first visits. Sometimes, the notice will be sitting on a counter or table. You have the right to take a copy home. Remember that you can always ask for a copy later or in many cases you will be able to find it on the website of your doctor or insurer. If you don't care about it today, it should be available to you later, even if you are no longer a patient of that doctor or covered by that insurer.
Your health plan also will provide you a notice, but the rules for getting you the notice are somewhat different for health plans. Patients really don't need to know those rules. You probably received a health plan notice in the mail, but you may have ignored it. If you want a notice from your health plan, ask for it or look on the health plan's website.