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Toni Talks about PT Today

HIPAA Violations Can Be Overheard Too

Published May 20, 2014 3:37 PM by Toni Patt

The other day, I was sitting at a nursing station and overheard a conversation between a patient and a physician. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. The patient was very hard of hearing and the doctor had to yell to be heard. The patient was yelling back. I realized I was overhearing a major HIPAA violation. Between the two of them, they were broadcasting protected information down the hall.

First of all, the doctor should have closed the door. I still might have been able to hear but wouldn't have understood what was being said. A nurse walking by did almost immediately after the conversation started.

With the onset of electronic charting, facilities have been stressing precautions to protect the data. I think everyone knows to limit exposure to printed information and throw it in the shred box when finished. Passwords must be changed every few months. We go out of our way to not say patient names in hallways, elevators and the like.

What about the patients who can't hear us unless we yell? I can talk loud enough that even those with the poorest hearing can understand me. I have to remember to close doors and have conversations is relative privacy. It just dawned on me how much protected information I've been given at full volume.

Doctors seem to be the worst. They have conversations in the hall. They see people in the rehab gym doing therapy. One had a conversation with a patient in the bathroom. I know this because I was in the bathroom with the patient. That was seriously wrong. He should have asked the patient's permission for me to be present. It wasn't anything I didn't already know, but that isn't the point.

Patients forget this a lot. Many of them yell information into the phone. Either they speak loudly, the other person can't hear or both. I've noticed there is no privacy during phone conversations. They'll share everything.

There isn't too much we can do about patients with loud voices but we can be aware of what we're doing. We can also close the door when the doctor forgets.

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