Health Information Management

Ask the expert: A new patient recently refused to provide his Social Security number (SSN). He claimed that HIPAA prohibits us from asking for it. We disagree. Who is right?

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 6, 2007

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A: The privacy rule does not prohibit you from using the SSN as a patient identifier, but some state laws limit how you can use SSNs. Consumers are increasingly concerned about identity theft, and many of them know that their financial records are closely linked to their SSNs. If a patient refuses to give you his or her SSN, it's his or her right to do so.

Your choice is to not accept him or her as a patient or to use other information (e.g., his or her name, address, and date of birth) to help distinguish the patient from others. I routinely decline to disclose my SSN when I fill out new patient forms because I know that the medical practice doesn't really need my SSN to provide treatment.

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