I Overheard My Doctor Say What?

Rob Van Buskirk
April 2, 2018
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Let’s talk about HIPAA and oral conversations. Did you know that your oral conversations with a coworker, doctor, or patient are covered by the HIPAA Privacy Rule? Yes, that means you have to think about what you discuss and who might be listening. You can’t just talk with staff in the waiting room, saying that Mr. Rob has diabetes or high blood pressure, while the conversation is within earshot of your patients.

Here are a few examples of practices that are permissible under the Privacy Rule, as long as reasonable precautions are taken to minimize the chance of incidental disclosure to others who may be nearby:

  • Health care staff may orally coordinate services at your practice.
  • Health care professionals may discuss a patient’s condition over the phone with the patient, a provider, or a family member if a privacy release form has been signed.
  • A health care professional may discuss lab test results with a patient or other provider in a joint treatment area.
  • A health care professional may discuss a patient’s condition or treatment regimen in the patient’s semi-private room.
  • A health care professional or tech may discuss a prescription with a patient over the pharmacy counter or over the phone.
  • A receptionist may lower her voice and discuss a diagnosis with a patient, as long as an effort is made so other patients do not overhear.

In these circumstances, reasonable precautions could include using lowered voices, or talking apart from others when sharing protected health information. Covered entities are free to engage in communications as required for quick, effective, and high quality health care.

So, the takeaway is really to think before you speak! And ensure that you limit the information that is needed to provide excellent care.