HIPAA Laws – Should you update the records and proceed with collections. Why or Why not?

By HIPAA Laws – Can you change the address on a patients record?

You are working the collection Accounts Receivables (A/R) and you come across a patient who has moved and left no forwarding address. The patient happens to be a friend of yours. Should you update the records and proceed with collections. Why or Why not?

Can you help?


As I understand your question it’s whether you should you update the person’s address because you know them – which you otherwise wouldn’t.

My opinion is that you should treat this patient just like any other patient. Your personal relationship shouldn’t effect their account – either to provide them an advantage or in this case a disadvantage. If their new address is available through some other legal source – or they provided it, then I think it would be OK. But using knowledge from a personal relationship with that patient may violate the intent of HIPAA in preserving a patients information. That’s just my interpretation of this kind of grey area.

Depending on the medical billing software you are using you should be able to fairly easily update the patients address – we do this all the time due to patient moves. The challenge most of the time is finding out what the patients new address is. A lot of times the way we find out is when the patient statement gets returned. However some of the patient mailing services can update addresses when the patient notifies the postal service of their address change. Unfortunately when some people move they don’t want anyone to know their new address so their creditors can’t so easily find them.

With regards to collection on past due accounts – we typically (depending on the preferences of the practice) make a few attempts at “soft collections” on a past due account. That may involve sending a notice that their account will be turned over to collection if payments are not received or arrangements made – or a phone call reminder.

Many times a patient will move but not be aware that they have an outstanding balance with the provider – sometimes with secondary insurers it can take a while to receive and post all of the insurance payments. We usually do this before turning the account over to a collection agency. Most collections agencies have ways of tracking people down who have moved with no forwarding address. We typically defer to the provider what thresholds they want with regard to the amount past due and how long the account is delinquent.

If a patient is having financial difficulty maybe they can work out payment arrangements. Ultimately our obligation and responsibilities are to our client or provider which requires us to realize they are the ones who decide when to write-off past due amounts or cut patients some slack when their account is past due – unless they have deferred that call to us the biller or the office manager. I’ve noticed most providers won’t turn a patient over to collections if they continue making payments – even if they are small – on their account.

Hope this helps answer your questions. Thanks for visiting the site.

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