By Chris Vinton, Medical Solutions Quality Assurance Specialist
Protecting patient information is a crucial part of patient care. Each patient’s information must be protected from his or her intake date all the way past the patient’s discharge date. HIPAA is a federal law that requires patient information to be protected as much as possible.
Patient information is a need to know basis. If someone doesn’t need to know, then don’t reveal the information. It can be easy to compromise a patient’s protected information, so you must be aware of what you are saying and to whom. Someone may overhear your conversation or you may accidently give too much information to whoever you are talking to. Unintentional HIPAA violations still incur a fine of $100 per offense. Some violations can cost up to $50,000 per offense — money much better spent on tacos.
So, how do you avoid spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in donations to the federal government? Simply, do not share patient information with people who do not need it. It certainly is much more complicated than it sounds, but awareness goes a long way. Making sure patient records match the patient, calling the patient at the correct number, and not giving out patient information are easy ways to prevent information breeches.
Technology has made patient care easier and faster, with some exceptions. However, technology has also made access to patient information easier, which is both good and bad. Make sure the computer you’re using is password protected and always lock computers when leaving them. Do not share your computer password with anyone. When emailing patient information, use a generic subject line. Even if the email is encrypted, the subject line will not be. Papers with patient information must be covered, put in a folder or put in a drawer. When disposing of any patient information that is on paper, shred the papers instead of throwing them in the regular trash can.
Every nurse has some great stories to tell — whether they are impressive or really gross. When telling these stories, leave out identifying details like the patient’s name, for example. Otherwise, it could lead back to the patient or someone who knows them. You never know who’s listening to your story and specific details could lead the person you’re talking to, or a person who is eavesdropping, back to the patient.
HIPAA is a constantly evolving law. There will always be new things to be aware of such as new technology, new charting systems, and there may even be new court cases that change HIPAA. If you see any HIPAA violations, you can report them on the HIPAA website. Always keep in mind that hospitals are always the last place people want to be in and some procedures can be very embarrassing to some people. Much of what nurses talk about is normal to them, but people outside of the medical profession can be appalled by the stories or if their own information was somehow leaked. Always make protecting your patient your main priority.
You can get more information about HIPAA or report a violation here.
For more tips on avoiding HIPAA violations, click here.