Waiting rooms are used frequently in doctors' offices, chiropractors, dentists and hospitals. When a patient arrives, he or she typically waits here until the receptionist calls them back. If you operate a healthcare practice with a waiting room, it's important to follow some basic guidelines to ensure that you comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.
It's not uncommon for healthcare practitioners to leave patient charts in plain sight on desks or other areas within the waiting room. Assuming the chart contains Protected Health Information (PHI) – and most do – this is a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Even if the chart is located at the front desk, other patients may still see it, resulting in the unauthorized disclosure of PHI. The bottom line is that patient charts should be concealed and hidden from other patients at all times.
Another all-too-common mistake that occurs in many doctors' offices is the use of electronic displays to reveal patient information. Granted, it's perfectly acceptable to display limited patient information on electronic displays, but revealing too much information could trigger a HIPAA violation. If a large computer monitor, for instance, is used to display patients' names, birthdates, and reason for visiting, it's a violation of HIPAA.
Some doctors and other healthcare physicians assume that patient sign-in forms violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule, in which case they avoid using them altogether. But there's no rule prohibiting the use of patient sign-in forms at doctors' offices or other healthcare practices. Like the display screens mentioned above, however, patient sign-in forms should include a very limited amount of information, such as the patient's name and nothing else. If other information is attached to patients' names, it could be a violation of HIPAA.
If a receptionist at the front desk of a waiting room uses a computer to access PHI, he or she should implement the necessary safeguards to protect it from prying eyes. Allowing patients to “peek” at the computer screen is a HIPAA violation. So, how do you prevent this from occurring? Privacy screens can be attached to computer monitors so that other individuals nearby cannot see what's on the screen. For the price, there's no better or cheaper way to protect sensitive information that's being displayed on a computer screen.