Privacy in Health Care

Some things to consider for the budding medical transcriptionist

It was nearly two months ago when I heard it on the news, so close to home, so very disappointing. Why do people have to be this way? Is it so hard to let other people’s business truly be their own business? Give some people an inch, and they take a mile.

As you can tell, I’m not feeling very happy about this issue that happened. It’s not pleasant at all. Here in my hometown and health region where I am now employed outside the home, at one of our local hospitals, an employee snooped in 35 other people’s health records. This is something we are expressly not to do in this profession. We are trained in school not to breach privacy. We are trained in the health region upon being hired not to breach privacy. If I may, let me walk you through some of the aspects of this in thought.

Feeling violated?

Now this person is going to go through a disciplinary procedure. All the people this person worked with will be aware of what they have done, this breach will be on their employee record permanently. If they decide to change occupations, this will very likely follow them everywhere they go. Think about it, would you hire this person?

Just imagine right now that you are one of their co-workers; when and if they come back to work after a long period of suspension, do you trust them? I wonder if this person snooped on their co-workers in that department? Just suppose for a second, how you would feel if you were one of this person’s co-workers before this happened, and you come into work, and your managers are dealing with the fallout of this? How does your opinion change about that person? How will you feel working with them when they come back from suspension?

Now that I’ve asked a few questions to get you to think about how you would feel in that situation, now let’s turn the table. Snooping is a very real temptation. Put yourself in this person’s shoes. I would suppose that this person likely had a sense of being on ‘top’ of each relationship of the people they snooped on, a total of 97 records were breached, and I’m certain it got a lot easier to do after the first few and no signs of getting caught. “What a joke all these rules are, right?” Now imagine you come into work one day, and you are called by your manager into an office or a room with a few other people, including your union representative, and you are confronted about your snooping. I would think that would feel about as comfortable as being asked for your licence and registration when a police officer has caught you speeding well over the speed limit.

If you are not feeling extremely uncomfortable at the thought of being caught for looking at even one person’s or even your own medical record, you will want to take on a change of heart, because privacy has become a very large part of what the health system is built upon. Now place yourself back to work (if you should be so lucky) with your colleagues, some of whom are sure to now keep you at arms length, at least for a while. Would you still expect their respect? Granted, they will respect you, but that camaraderie you had before will never be the same. The story does not end here. The weight of the conviction and guilt of this person will be ever-present for a very, very long time. They have to live with themselves and with the repercussions of their mistake.

Picture yourself as one of the patients this person snooped on. The health region has a policy that all patients with whom privacy has been breached must be informed of the breach. So you are a patient, and you may be a relative of this person, you may be a friend or just someone this person is curious about. You are now that patient. You know of the laws here, that no one is allowed to share any information about you whatsoever. In spite of these privacy laws being so frustrating as to making your blood boil now and then, at the same time and for your own sake, you do feel a bit of safety in knowing that your own information is kept private. One day, out of the blue, either a phone call or a letter comes in the mail. There has been a breach of privacy at your health region, and it was found that someone has been looking at your personal health records. Now how do you feel as a stranger to this person, as a friend or past flame, or as a relative?

If you are taking the time to imagine place yourself in these shoes, I know you’re feeling something. Would “violated” be a good way to describe that feeling? Now release it. You know how those people would likely feel, so turn those negative feeling into compassion. No one deserves their privacy to be encroached upon. Not one of those people who were snooped on deserved it. Not one of them. The snooping this employee did certainly is not the way to care for people. And that is why we enter into the healthcare industry isn’t it? To care for others? And no job in the healthcare industry is too small to care. Not the transcription job, not the janitorial job, not the health records job, nor the office assistant or receptionist job, not even the volunteer ‘job.’ Just because we are not doctors and nurses does not mean that we have license to do what we want–everyone must be accountable to someone else. There is no end to accountability. Even doctors and nurses do not have license to do what they want. They also have to abide by privacy laws. Just as your personal information is sensitive, so is everyone else’s.

Some guidelines to follow as you enter this industry to avoid performing privacy breach

Of course it would be hard not to pay attention when someone’s health document crosses your path and lights up your screen for you to edit or type, but therein lies the temptation. How do you avoid it? Stated simply, aim first to protect yourself, and here are some ways you can do that:

  1. Decide for yourself here and now if you haven’t already, that you will not be one of those people. Decide for yourself that you will not give in to the temptation to know something that you should not know. Take this on as a personal guideline. I’m sure there are some things in your life you have decided that you will never do, and this guideline should be one of those things. Set this up in your heart and your mind, and lock it up tight, so as to be something that you will never budge on. You will never budge on giving your toddler permission to play out on a busy street, and so it is with you and snooping in other people’s medical records–you will never snoop nor type or edit anyone’s medical record whom you know.
  2. Discipline yourself to exit out of that medical record immediately, and abide by the guidelines set by your company. Alternatively, ask a superior to assign the dictation to someone else; and the reason why, you will tell them, is because you know who the patient is and will not breach their privacy. Over time, you will gain more trust and respect of your co-workers, managers and team leads. You will become known for your integrity and professionalism, and wouldn’t you rather be well known for that then to be known as someone who can’t control themselves from the privacy of others, someone who cannot be trusted? I think that is one thing we all want to be in life, is someone who can be trusted.
  3. Every time you hear of a privacy breach in the future, listen to it or read it in its entirety. Allow it to confirm your own convictions about the importance of privacy. Put yourself in the victim’s shoes and in the perpetrator’s shoes again. Make your own opinion on the necessity and importance of privacy become good and strong in this way. It’s always good to reinforce it. If you find yourself slipping in your opinion, finding that you’re questioning privacy, or thinking that “oh, just one quick look won’t hurt,” then purposely reinforce it. Purposely pay attention to the discipline aspects; is breaching someone’s privacy really worth the risk?
  4. Talk about it in a positive way with your co-workers, team leads, in meetings and even with friends. Ask friends for their opinion on privacy laws where it affects their own privacy, are they glad to have it?
  5. If your employer offers training on privacy, ask to take it again.
  6. Do periodic searches on privacy in healthcare for new information on laws and policies in your area. Sometimes things change and you might not be aware of exactly what has changed, and could possibly end up breaching by accident.

If you want to read an article on the noted breach in this article, you can click this link. There are a number of other news articles covering this same incident, and others.


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