Since one of my jobs involves working in a pharmacy I see HIPAA in action on a daily basis. What HIPAA does in its most basic form is protect your privacy by allowing only the need to know information available to certain healthcare providers. It also prevents this information from being passed along to others without your permission.
HIPAA relies on holding individual healthcare professionals and providers responsible for taking your personal information only when needed and ensuring that this information is not made available to anyone else. An example of HIPAA in work would be in your dentist’s office. Your dentist would not need to see say your sexual health record in order to perform a dental cleaning. Your doctor would need to see this information but if you need a prescription filled for say skin medication your pharmacist would not need to access much of your personal information unless you had any conditions that would interfere with the skin medication.
As you can see HIPAA protects your personal information and allows access to it only on a need to know basis. It also holds individual providers responsible for safeguarding information they collect about you and your medical history. In the pharmacy your personal information is disposed of in special trash bags that are segregated and sent to a secure destruction facility. This prevents criminals and others from gaining access to information on old prescriptions and labels and is one way the pharmacy protects you and its accountability.
One slight downside to HIPAA that some have noted is that in emergencies critical information could be withhold by a family member or healthcare professional causing a delay in effective medical attention.