Posted on: June 7, 2018

Your health records are private, even in the age of electronic records systems. That’s why you’re asked to sign a consent form to share your medical information with your healthcare providers.

But what happens when there’s an emergency situation and you’re unable to give consent? Say, for instance, you’ve been in a car accident and are unconscious. How will the emergency room doctors know what medications you’re on so they can avoid giving you anything that might interact?

Fortunately, New York State regulators anticipated such a situation when they developed the privacy and security procedures that govern access to an organization like Hixny. While prioritizing protecting your privacy, they also developed a contingency plan. It’s called “Breaking the Glass,” and it lets doctors look at your medical history without your consent in life-threatening situations.

“Breaking the Glass” Must Meet Three Conditions

In an emergency, doctors and other clinicians can view your medical record if they meet these conditions:

  • The clinician believes you are in a medical emergency and have an immediate need for attention. Waiting for you to give consent would delay treatment and that the delay could pose a risk to your health and life.
  • The practitioner believes that the medical history available via Hixny is necessary to provide you with the proper medical care.
  • You have not previously denied consent to that particular practitioner.

If your situation meets those three conditions, physicians can look at your medical history and get the information they need to decide how to treat your injuries or illness.

“Breaking the Glass” applies to both adult and minor patients, and only for life-threatening treatment. Once the physician completes your treatment, access to your medical records ends. You will still need to provide your consent to any physicians who provide follow-up medical care.

Denying Consent Can Affect Your Care in Emergencies

If you have previously denied consent for practitioners to view your medical history, or signed a consent form and then withdrew it, providers are not permitted to access your record at any time. This means that even during an emergency, providers cannot “Break the Glass” to access your record.

In those cases, clinicians wouldn’t be able to see your records in a life-threatening emergency. They wouldn’t be able to see what medications you’re taking, whether you have preexisting conditions, or anything else that could help them provide life-saving care.

Reversing Denial of Consent

When you’re presented with a Hixny Consent form, you either agree or deny the facility consent to access your records. If you deny consent—that means even in a life-threatening emergency, a provider cannot access your records or “Break the Glass”.

If you’re someone who previously denied consent, and now want to reverse that choice (so in an emergency a physician can “Break the Glass”)—it’s simple.

You have two options. First, you must visit the facility where you denied consent and either:

  1. Give consent to the facility to access your records, including in a life-threatening emergency. You can do this by selecting agree on a new consent form. A sample consent form can be viewed here. Or:
  2. Withdraw your denial of consent. By withdrawing your denial you’re removing the block to ‘Break the Glass” in the event of an emergency, but not permitting access to your records in any other situation. You can do this by signing a “Withdrawal of Consent” form at your facility—you can see an example here.

Daily Audits Protect Your Privacy

To help protect your privacy and ensure that state guidelines are not violated, Hixny conducts daily audits of every “Break the Glass” event. Each occurrence is categorized as either appropriate access or inappropriate access.

In almost all cases, Hixny’s audit shows that providers acted correctly and appropriately when they broke the glass. When an audit shows that a provider accessed a patient’s data inappropriately, Hixny takes steps to sanction that provider. That could include retraining the provider, or suspending or revoking their access to Hixny. The healthcare facility may also impose sanctions of its own for inappropriate access.