Asking your patients for ‘sensitive’ information?

Patients might want explanation

“Because it’s our policy.” “It’s required by the state.” If a wary patient asks registrars why a certain piece of demographic information is needed, these answers are likely to make matters worse.

“We train staff to avoid responses like those. That tends to just ruffle the feathers,” says Mollie Drake, corporate director of access at Scripps Health in San Diego.

Much of the hospital’s revenue stream depends on your registrars getting all the information they collect correctly the first time, notes Drake. The organization’s nine-day training program for new patient access hires covers all the information gathered by patient access employees and the reason why it is collected, and all staff are required to obtain annual competencies on this information.

“I’ve never been a big believer in scripts,” says Drake. “I prefer to help the employees understand why we collect the information, so they can explain it in their own words and not sound mechanical in their responses.”

Some patients are reluctant to give their social security number to registrars, for example. In this case, patients are told that in the hospital system, they are assigned a unique medical record number under which all their medical history is filed. Registrars explain that should a registration staff member attempt to assign a second medical record number to an existing patient, they would be stopped and alerted at the social security number field, since that number already would be on file.

“This is the only data point collected that is truly unique to that patient,” says Drake. “If the patient still refuses to provide the social security number, we enter ‘none’ in the field.”

If a patient asks why their address or phone number is needed, staff explain that clinicians may need to reach them post-discharge.

When registrars ask patients about religious preference, they explain that the hospital has a chaplaincy program and if the patient would like to declare a religion, one of the members might stop by to visit. Before asking for information on religion, registrars disclose that the patient has the right to refuse to give the information, adds Drake.

“In the event the patient returns to us in an emergency situation and can’t communicate, we would want to be respectful of their religious beliefs in determining a treatment plan,” she explains.