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"How do you protect a patient’s privacy?" Some patient access employees get a "deer-in-the-headlights" look when surveyors ask this simple question, says Michael Sciarabba, MPH, CHAM, director of patient access at University of California, San Francisco.
"It appears that they don’t know the answer," he says. "But they just haven’t stopped to consider all the things they do in their day-to-day job."
Staff members can tell surveyors that they only ask for last four digits of the patient’s social security number, that they always talk in low voices, that they shred all confidential patient information, and that they give out privacy notices, for example.
When preparing registration areas for surveys by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and The Joint Commission, "one area we wanted to make sure we were prepared for was privacy policies," says Angela Click, patient access services manager at OSF St Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, IL. The reason is that patient access areas gather a lot of protected health information (PHI) during the check-in process, and the staff members need to ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
"We put a process in place to make sure all patients were getting registered at a private booth and not having to provide their PHI while in the registration line," says Click.
During busy times, registrars often get up to check the fax machine for an order or to ask a question. "Once they leave their desk, if they do not secure their computer screen, then they could possibly be open to a HIPAA violation, as the patient’s information would be left open on an unsecure computer screen," says Click.
Patient access managers placed small signs on each monitor reminding registrars to "Secure your computer screen" before they walk away. "These processes help to ensure patient safety," says Click. "It also ensures we are prepared for our CMS and Joint Commission surveys."