JUL 18, 2012 11:16am ET



In a July 12 editorial, the Chicago Tribune speculated on the mysterious disappearance of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who went AWOL in June and whose office recently said he was being treated for a mood disorder at an undisclosed location.

The Congressman’s office released a statement, reprinted in the editorial, that “Information regarding the congressman’s treatment is protected under the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (‘HIPPA’).”

HIPPA. HIPPA. Health care industry vets reading the editorial, which later repeated the acronym faux pas in its own words, surely flagged the blunder. But when you see HIPPA in the media, or being passed around internally, what’s your reaction? Do you chalk it up as a simple mistake, or does it compel you to send off a correction?

The health care industry has laid a perfect trap. Since one can’t really make phonetic sense out of HIPAA (“HIP-AH-AY”? “HIP-PAY”?) health care professionals talk about it as HIP-AH, which of course gets translated as “HIPPA” by innocent bystanders.

But maybe that’s why many health care professionals, and the media that follow them, seem to take it so seriously. Falling into that trap seems to indicate someone is separated by a couple degrees from the industry’s issues. Likewise, if you saw a piece about the impact of SOCKS on the banking industry, everything that came after would sound a little less authoritative.

A couple years ago, a marketing piece sent out on our behalf mentioned “HIPPA,” and the knives came out. One recipient alerted the HISTalk blog with the comment “Re: HIPPA. You have to love that after almost 15 years, Health Data Management misspelled it that way in the survey they sent to readers today.” Mr. HISTalk also noted that “HITECH” was mangled in the same marketing piece, into what form I don’t know. I got hit after that piece went out with some letters to the editor, and a few voicemails, all wondering if the editorial staff needed help finding the bathroom, figuratively speaking.

The Tribune editorial board has some understanding of the privacy regulations, and the paper’s news staff rarely, if ever, gets it wrong. A quick online search yielded multiple instances where the acronym was incorrect in a headline or story tag but correct within the body of the story. The media seems to have a better handle at it than lawyers: a short story about Westlaw legal database searches found 1,773 search results for “HIPAA,” and a search for “HIPPA” yielded 599 results. And I did come across an EHR training program that gets it consistently wrong, which might give one pause about using those services.

With some trepidation, I did a search of our site and only found two instances of “HIPPA,” one used by a reader who sent in comments and another instance from 12 years ago, which I didn’t bother to investigate. I did the same search of some other industry news sites and mass media publications like the New York Times, and got more than two hits, and I’ll leave it at that.

HIPPA looks like it’s going to be around for a while. Do you care?


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