Q&A: Discussing PHI in public areas

May 28, 2020
Medicare Web

Q: When our physicians need to talk to a patient’s family about the status of the patient, they usually can do so in a private room near the waiting area. But there have been instances when the private rooms are occupied and the physicians must discuss the status of a patient in the waiting room or in the hallway. Is this permissible under HIPAA? What steps should the physicians take to minimize the risk of having PHI being overheard by strangers?

A: This is permissible. The physician should keep his/her voice low and talk with the family away from other visitors, to the extent possible, to minimize the risk of an incidental disclosure.

Editor's note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS is a healthcare consultant specializing in healthcare regulatory compliance and operations improvement. She is also an advisory board member for BOH. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent HCPro or ACDIS. Email your HIPAA questions to editor Kevin Duffy at kduffy@hcpro.com.

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Ask the Expert, HIPAA