When it comes to scheduling appointments and day-to-day operations within a practice, there are a number of things that are often taken for granted. Sending out appointment reminders or making phone calls to verify appointments with patients. Using sign-in sheets in waiting rooms and hanging patient charts outside exam room doors. Calling patients to give them lab or test results.
But are these things in violation of HIPAA regulations? The quick answer is they could be, if they’re not handled with care.
Here are some good tips from the UT Health Science Center (http://uthscsa.edu/hipaa/FAQs.asp) and the American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/solutions-managing-your-practice/coding-billing-insurance/hipaahealth-insurance-portability-accountability-act/frequently-asked-questions.page?) to make sure that your practice is fully compliant.
Appointment Reminder Cards
Sending out appointment reminder cards is a standard procedure for practices and is cleared by HIPAA regulations, but be careful to note what kinds of information you’re putting on the cards. Does the name of your practice potentially give away a patient’s diagnosis? If it does, UT Health Science Center recommends changing anything that can be seen publicly to something a bit more vague or generic so as not to identify a potential issue.
Appointment reminder calls are a good practice, but leaving lab results or any other pieces of confidential information on voicemail is something that should not be done. Also, don’t leave lab results with another person on the phone. Instead, ask the patient to simply return your call or try to call again at another time.
The same is true with offering lab or test results in person, especially if there are other people - including the patient’s family members - in the room. Be sure to ask your patient whether it is okay for the person(s) in the room to hear the results before giving them.
Having patients sign in when arriving for an appointment is another fairly standard practice, and according to the UT Health Science Center, it’s a practice you can continue without worry.
“HIPAA does not disallow sign-in logs (or) calling the patients' names out in the waiting room,” writes the UT Health Science Center. However, your sign-in sheet should not include an area for “reason for visit,” notes the American Medical Association.
So, what about placing charts outside of office doors or having schedules posted in the office? Those are okay, within reason.
The American Medical Association writes that while the practice of hanging charts outside doors is fine, there are measures that can help protect privacy including facing the chart toward the wall so others cannot read the front page.
The UT Health Science Center also recommends using your best judgment when it comes to ensuring a reasonable level of privacy. This is especially true with specific types of treatment, including fertility or psychiatry, which may require additional measures for privacy.
Following these suggestions will allow you to maintain your procedures while ensuring the best possible privacy for your patients.