Feds Enforce Medical Records Privacy Act

The prescription information Larry Krohn typed into his computer was confidential. Now a new federal law penalizes pharmacists who release that information without consent. "In other words," Krohn said, "we can discuss it with doctors that are taking care of them. But we can't tell the public what kind of medicine somebody is on."

Krohn's Gulfport pharmacy has a room set aside for customers and pharmacists to talk. Plus, his counter has an added safeguard. "A year-and-a-half ago when we remodeled the store," Krohn said, "we put in a little bit more of a private area to talk with people when they pick up their prescriptions, so we could do it privately."

Charles Angel was one of the first customers at the private section of the counter to hear about the new privacy safeguards. "I think it's an excellent law," the Gulfport man said. "What medications that you're on are your business."

The new privacy rules extend beyond the pharmacy. They also impact hospitals emergency rooms and the media. Here's now. Say a gunshot victim is in stable condition after surgery. Reporters can't pick up a phone, call the hospital, obtain that information and relay it to the public, unless the victim says it's okay.

Back at the pharmacy, Larry Krohn equated the privacy regulations to more bureaucratic red tape. "Life's complicated enough. You hate to make it any more complicated," the pharmacist said. "But that's part of life. And you do it and go on with it. That's being in business."

The penalty for releasing confidential medical information is up to 10 years in jail and as much as a $250,000 fine.