With the advent of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, patient confidentiality and privacy has been on the minds of all medical practitioners. Gone are the days of leaving lab results on an answering machine or simply tossing confidential data into the trash can sans shredding. Further, offices that are now implementing Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems are being extremely cautious to make certain that the selected system meets all HIPAA guidelines.
However, there continues to be room for improvement in the office setting when it comes to respecting and protecting the privacy of patients. Maybe some offices have become lax with their procedures since the inception of HIPAA. It is also possible that with the focus on electronic mediums, the more pedestrian methods of protecting privacy have been overlooked. In any case, patient privacy should be critical to all physician practices.
Because patient privacy is of paramount importance, following are some key pointers:
- Every staff member in the office should be apprised of HIPPA standards and held accountable
- Do not discuss sensitive issues when the patient is standing at the reception window and within earshot of those in the waiting room
- Not only are health related issues confidential, but insurance and billing discussions should be private as well
- When retrieving patients from the waiting room for their appointment, use first names only
- When providing patients with drug samples, also provide a bag for them to discreetly carry the medication through the waiting room
- When placing charts for the physician, position in such a way so that patient names are not visible
- Use a patient sign-in system that allows the reception staff to remove or obstruct the name after sign-in
- All physician offices should have a partition system so that those in the waiting area cannot hear the business conducted by staff members
- When making appointment reminder phone calls to patients, exercise caution if you reach an answering machine and be certain not to leave overly detailed information in your message