As radiologists, you have the skills and tools to detect and diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions and diseases. Many times, patients may prefer that these illnesses not be shared with unauthorized personnel. That’s why it’s vital that all radiologists hold themselves to a high standard of privacy and discretion.
Common Sense Protects Patient Privacy
This commitment to patient privacy begins with observing simple common sense rules in your imaging centers. For example, refrain from discussing specific patient cases or information in areas of your workplace where patients may be. Make it a point to keep patient records secure, and don’t leave documents lying around in plain view or permit images to remain open on computer screens after you are finished with them. And never share sensitive information about a patient without his or her consent.
In addition, ensuring patient privacy means complying with all regulations specified in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. You should be aware that new HIPAA rules were issued in September of 2013 pertaining to patient privacy and security. The federal government expects all radiologists to adapt their practices to satisfy these rule changes.
Establish Security Policies
The foundation for maintaining adequate privacy under HIPAA is establishing security policies for protected health information (PHI) within your imaging centers. These policies should address which personnel have access to electronic files, and this access should be granted via unique login data for each user. All office personnel should be well-versed in the policies surrounding the facets of and access to this electronic PHI.
Technical Safeguards at Medical Facilities
In addition, numerous technical safeguards must be installed on all electronic filing systems and patient databases. In fact, HIPAA’s required risk assessment includes a heavy focus on how strong and up-to-date an office’s computer security system is. Access must be properly restricted to relevant personnel, activity logs must be maintained, and data encryption is strongly encouraged.
Employee Security Training at Medical Facilities
Also, all employees must be thoroughly trained on the policies and procedures regarding electronic security and overall patient privacy. Such training should be conducted on an ongoing basis, especially as software, office needs, and federal regulations change. Periodic evaluations of the systems themselves are also essential.
Consequences for Violating Patient Privacy
Privacy policies are insufficient if they do not carry penalties for violating them. To that end, HIPAA requires that a security and a privacy officer be appointed for the imaging center (one person can fulfill both roles) to oversee the implementation of these policies. All security problems, breaches, or incidents must be recorded and addressed, the resulting harm must be adequately mitigated, and sanctions must be imposed on those who are at fault.
Patient Privacy Documentation
Finally, it is vital that every aspect of the security and privacy process be documented thoroughly. After all, security regulations can be reviewed by authorities at any time, so all documentation must be kept as current as possible. All compliance activities must be documented and retained on file for six years.
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