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Life of a PTA

Maintaining My Privacy

Published April 4, 2014 3:49 PM by Allison Young

As we all know, maintaining our patients' personal and health information private is mandated by HIPAA laws and frankly, common sense. I would be less likely to disclose a patient's name to an unknown visitor than hand my credit card to a stranger on the street. Often though, I find myself abbreviating my own "history" to inquiring patients.

Having recently gone through a divorce, I shy away from discussing my private life with my patients simply because it can get awkward. Although I freely will discuss my children -- names, ages and interests -- to a curious patient, when the conversation naturally turns towards the topic of my "spouse," my description gets a bit vague. It's not that I think my patients "can't handle the truth" -- all of these people have seen their fair share of tragedy and triumph (some are WWII vets for goodness sake). I just do not feel my personal problems need to be unloaded on patients who are already vulnerable and often depressed.

As PTs/PTAs, our patients are depending on our therapeutic knowledge to guide them through their treatments each day -- knowing their therapist's personal life is a complicated mess is not exactly comforting.

As well, maintaining the therapist privacy is just as important. Recently, my fellow colleague suffered a serious illness in which he was hospitalized and required an extended leave of absence. Because he was widely respected by his patients and had been working full-time, many were constantly asking the PT department, "Where is my therapist -- is he coming back?" We fielded the questions by downplaying the severity of his illness and stating, "He is getting stronger every day." Again, the patients did not need to know the extent of this therapist's illness as they are dealing with their own health issues and the therapist deserved some privacy to heal without worrying about stressing out his patients on top of everything else.

Privacy is a two-way street, which should be respected by both the therapist and patient. This allows for the focus to be on the most important goal of all -- the patient's recovery. Do you have a "no-tell" policy regarding your personal life with patients? How do you field the "awkward" questions?

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