Patient Privacy: Can You Be Too Careful?

Posted by on December 7, 2012

By Minnie Wagner, Minnesota School of Business-Lakeville, Business/Healthcare Management Program Chair

Students from Minnie Wagner’s Healthcare Law and Ethics class visited CVS Pharmacy in Lakeville to learn more about the real life application of what they are studying in class. The students are enrolled in the health care management, medical assistant and massage therapy programs at Minnesota School of Business-Lakeville.

CVS’s resident pharmacist, Mitch Staiger, talked to the students about the importance of HIPAA laws (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), including reviewing some common privacy laws that are in place at the pharmacy.

For example, everything is coded with numbers to avoid identifying personal patient/client information. Students also learned that if aHealthcare Management degree pharmacist knows a patient personally, he/she can never talk to others about patient history.

Patient privacy is obviously important to maintain in all areas of healthcare, but instead of just reading about its impact, students learned from a professional. They learned this one very simple but important tip: “If you’re in doubt about something; don’t do it. Contact your immediate supervisor for answers. You don’t want to risk litigation against yourself or your employer.”

According to The US Department of Health and Human Services: “The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.”

Mitch Staiger did an excellent job of citing real life examples of how he knows people who have lost licenses and gotten into trouble for disclosing simple, but important information about mutual acquaintances.

In regards to HIPAA, a fact that may be little known is when debating which law to follow and a supervisor may not be available to ask, make sure you always follow the strictest of the law, whether it is federal or state. Nobody ever got into trouble for being too careful, especially when it comes to patient privacy.

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