Safeguarding Patients’ Health Information

Today’s ever changing world presents new challenges to protecting patients’ healthcare. There are several reasons why protecting health information is beneficial to both the medical provider or practice and the patient, many of which revolve around legal liability. Modern day health facilities, their providers and staff must be conscientious of patient confidentiality because they can be brought to court at nearly anytime by any patient. If proper evidence shows there was a malfeasance, costly penalties could ensue. Following are four ways healthcare workers can help protect both their patients and their employers.

Proper Documentation

Liability is not the only reason, nor should it be the defining factor, for using discretion when releasing patient information. Ethically, one must consider the patient’s best interest when sharing personal information – even when this occurs in the same office between co-workers. Patient documentation is complex, and this must be considered when applying guidelines for securing health information. Medical records, which were primarily paper charts only a few years ago, are now almost completely electronic. These systems are protected by username and password login credentials. Health facility staff must be cautious to keep their passwords safe and deter the misuse of patient information. It is of utmost importance that workstations be locked at all times when a member of the staff is not using the system. Also, patient information should not be visible while other patients are in the area.

Privacy and Respect

Health care workers and providers must be careful to respect the patient. Typically, it is suitable to call a patient from a waiting room by addressing him by his first or last name only. It is appropriate and professional to refer to the patient as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, or by the first name only, but never by both the first and last name. Also, it is very important to not discuss patient information when other patients are able to hear. Even when asking a patient simple questions regarding his symptoms, it is recommended to wait until the patient is in an exam room.

Access to Information

All patients have the right to allow their spouse, child or anyone else have access to their records; however, they must sign an authorization to do so. Anytime someone calls for the patient’s information, this list of authorized individuals should be referenced before giving details of the patient’s health record to anyone.

Patients’ Responsibility

Test results, appointment information and any other information in patients’ chart must be kept confidential at all times. It is also imperative for patients to cooperate with their providers by understanding their rights. Each and every patient has the right to confidential health information. In order to achieve this, patients must comply with any policies put in place, such as medical records authorizations. This documentation is extremely important in today’s litigious society.

There is a simple, straightforward way to achieve patient confidentiality – patients and providers must strictly protect health information through proper documentation and etiquette.

About the Guest Author

Mary Johanssen spends much of her time as a nursing informatic instructor teaching her students about patient confidentiality and information security as it relates to healthcare record keeping. More of her advice about this interesting and unique field can be found at MSN – Nursing Informatics.

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