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In this issue: Privacy: Handle with care

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As a health care professional, it is your duty to protect patients from harm. This includes practicing discretion and safeguarding your patients’ privacy. However, as the world we live in becomes increasingly connected, guarding patients’ privacy becomes more and more difficult.According to a survey published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 30 percent of state medical boards reported complaints of online violations of patient confidentiality. This figure is likely similar in Canada, where it’s becoming increasingly common to read about healthcare-related privacy breaches in the news. For instance, in Newfoundland earlier this year, an Eastern Health administrative employee resigned after being caught inappropriately looking at patients’ medical records. It’s not just admin staff organizations need to worry about, either. A collaborative study performed by CareContinuum Alliance and QuantiaMD® found that 13 percent of physicians admit to having discussed individual cases with other physicians via public online forums. This e-newsletter will discuss best practices you can share with your entire team to be sure you’re handling your patients’ right to privacy—both online and off—with utmost care. Keep reading to find out more.

Protecting your patients’ privacy

Protecting patients’ privacy goes beyond social media policies and password-protected laptops. It requires handling all cases with total discretion and a commitment to maintaining confidentiality at all costs. Here’s how:

  • Start with the waiting room: Reception areas can be crowded and lines of people waiting to sign in can intrude on patients’ privacy. Help keep fellow waiting-room patients from hearing each other’s personal information while standing in line with a Removable Floor Sticker imprinted with the message, “We care about your privacy. Please wait here until called.”  And although provincial health privacy regulations don’t prohibit calling out patient names in the waiting room, doing so can intrude on patients’ privacy. Consider using a separate sign-in sheet for each patient to notify staff that they’ve arrived. Then, either assign them a number or a pager (similar to what many restaurants use) that can alert patients when the doctor is ready to see them.
  • Take your privacy policies to the next level: The public recently saw the potential hazards of social media in the healthcare setting when, in the States, emergency room nurse and star of ABC’s primetime show New York Med Katie Duke was fired for posting a photo of an empty trauma room used to treat a man hit by New York City subway train. Although she didn’t violate hospital policy or privacy laws per se, she was still fired for being “insensitive.” Social media and privacy policies need to go above and beyond by addressing sensitivity, compassion and appropriate communication dynamics for the healthcare setting. Once you either develop or clearly revamp a policy, be sure to provide training to all staff to ensure the guidelines are clearly understood. Interactive Q&A can help aid in understanding. Reward participants with fun badge lanyards, stethoscope tags or hand sanitizer.
  • Stifle the chit-chats and rants: Chit-chat at nurses’ stations, reception desks and water coolers present a risk that passersby, non-“need-to-know” staff or patients might hear. The same holds true for rants on social media. Even if a patient’s name isn’t being used, these breaches open up your patients’ private information to countless others. Little reminders posted at water coolers, nurses’ stations and computers can reinforce your message to stifle the idle chit-chat. Try a stop-sign sticker imprinted with the message “We value our patients’ right to privacy.”


Privacy breach accessed 20 patient records: Eastern Health.CBC News. 13 May 2014. Web. Retrieved 06 Oct. 2014.

Budryk, Zack. “Social media abuse: Clinicians reveal patient info online.” FierceHealthcare. N.p., 15 Jan. 2014. Web. Retrieved 25 Sept. 2014.

Use discretion in the waiting room.” HCPro via Ambulatory Safety Monitor. N.p., 17 Feb. 2005. Web. Retrieved 26 Sept. 2014.

Neporent, Liz. “Nurse Firing Highlights Hazards of Social Media in Hospitals.ABC News. ABC News Network, 08 Jul. 2014. Web. Retrieved 26 Sept. 2014.

Larson, Eric. “Should This Doctor Have Slammed Her Patient on Facebook?Mashable. N.p., 11 Feb. 2013. Web. Retrieved 26 Sept. 2014.


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