Less descriptive signs preserve patients’ rights

Question: Several facilities in California have been advised to remove isolation/precaution signage for purposes of patient privacy. How can this be addressed and still provide necessary information?

Answer: The concerns for patient privacy are increasing across the United States. Much of the signage which has been employed for infection control does indeed relay the diagnosis of a patient. For example, several facilities use placards for instructions which may reveal the diagnosis of the patient as having methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, vancomycin resistant enterococci, tuberculosis, or clostridium difficile.

There is now a tendency toward the appropriate concern of protecting patients’ rights and not revealing this diagnosis to individuals who may walk by a patient’s room. Therefore, it will likely be necessary to change signs accordingly.

Change signs to nondescript wording

Examples from some institutions who wish to continue instructions at the patient’s door include changing the categories of precautions to nondescript categories (e.g. precautions A, precautions B, precautions C). Other institutions have placed general notification messages instructing health care personnel and visitors to check at the nurses’ station for more specific instructions. At the present time, it is only at the nurses’ station in the Kardex — or in the patient’s record — that accurate diagnosis and instructions can be kept with appropriate confidentiality.

Regardless of the method chosen, the concept is likely here to stay and will increase in importance. The patient’s privacy must be respected and at the present time, that is clearly leaning toward methods which remove specific diagnoses from being visible to the public.

— Patrick Joseph, MD, CEO, California Infection Control Consultants, San Ramon, CA.