Prevention is better than a cure. In the world of HIPAA privacy and security, training and awareness are among the most important aspects of prevention. The best laid policies and procedures won't keep your patient's PHI safe if no one knows how or why to follow them. But effective and engaging training methods can be elusive. Employees and administrators might begin to treat their annual training as routine, going through the motions to get their certificate, and then falling victim to a phishing attack that could have been avoided. New hires may be overwhelmed by the scope of HIPAA?it's a huge law?or struggle to connect it to their job duties. Developing education and awareness strategies that capture employees' attention and build privacy and security into the culture of their workplace can be a tall order.
Security officers may sometimes feel that they're asked to do too much with too little. Limitations surrounding staffing, budgets, or resources, or an administration that simply doesn't understand the importance of information security, can make a difficult task even more complicated. In some organizations, information security is a relatively new department and might lack the connections and relationships that more well-established departments rely on for support. Security needs allies. Fortunately, there's one they may already work closely with who is ideally suited: internal auditors.
Submit your HIPAA questions to Associate Editor Nicole Votta at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.
Q: Our front desk receptionist has asked the following question regarding residents who are admitted to our long-term care facility. If someone calls the front desk asking for information on a resident, such as "Is (resident) in your facility?" or "What is their room number?", would this information be considered PHI?
A: The answer is not straightforward when it comes to long-term care. It all depends on the care setting. If care is provided in an assisted living facility and the assisted living facility does not provide healthcare services, such as nursing care related to treatment or a clinic on-site, the information is not PHI. On the other hand, if the facility is a skilled nursing facility (SNF) and is providing what HIPAA defines as healthcare, it would be considered PHI. That doesn't mean the receptionist cannot share the information about whether a resident is at the facility or the resident's room number. Similar to a hospital, a long-term care facility could maintain a facilities directory. Unless the resident has specifically requested he or she not be included in the facility directory, you can share whether a resident is at the facility and where the resident is located in the facility. Providing more information would be prohibited. Review the long-term care regulations in the state in your state.
Editor’s note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar and Associates in Portland, Oregon, answered this question. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.