HIPAA- Patient Confidentiality

By Jenny Palmgren, BSN, RN, Clinical Nurse Manager, MSSI

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) went into effect in 1996 to protect health information (PHI) and medical records.

PHI breaches can occur with electronic documents, paper documents, and spoken conversations.  Research shows breaches have occurred while caregivers are completing handoff outside of patient’s rooms.  Have you ever stood in the hallway exchanging information on your patient with a fellow caretaker, thinking it was private and out of range for others to hear?  Despite how quiet the report may be, sound often travels further than you think.

Discussing PHI in protected areas is hugely important, but it is equally as important to be conscious of information found on your computer.  The busy pace of day-to-day patient care often requires you to step away.  A smart habit to ensure you’re following HIPAA guidelines is to lock your computer when walking away from it. Another common practice is for staff to turn off their computer screen when stepping away.  How often have you walked away to grab something quick from down the hall? In that split second, someone can read the material on your screen and a HIPAA breach has occurred.

It can be a hassle to log on and off just to step away briefly if you don’t log out or lock your screen, someone now has the access to document inappropriately under your name. If you would ever be summoned to court as part of a case, that documentation could appear under your name even though it wasn’t entered by you.

Stay protected and don’t allow your computer to be vulnerable!

Stay tuned for HIPAA and social media in the next edition.

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