April 7, 2006

Patient privacy awareness events set

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Patient privacy awareness events set

Vanderbilt University Medical Center will sponsor events in observance of Health Information Privacy and Security Week, which runs April 9 – 15.

Privacy and information security staff will operate information tables in VUMC dining areas, give presentations for groups of staff and faculty and distribute fliers with tips for guarding privacy and confidentiality.

In 2005, the Privacy Office at Vanderbilt received 165 complaints; privacy violations by employees were found to have occurred in roughly half of all cases. Each violation was met with disciplinary action, including several employee terminations, said Kimberly Len, Privacy Office coordinator. While dismissal may follow in cases of deliberate violations, many more violations are due to carelessness, Len said.

The Privacy Office offers the following reminders to help safeguard privacy.

• Don't leave confidential information lying around where others can see it, whether it's patient information, employee records or student records. Shredder bins are located throughout the Medical Center. Always shred confidential documents when they're no longer needed.

• Keep patient charts closed when not in use.

• Always get the patient's permission before discussing health issues in front of family members or visitors. When in doubt, ask others to step out of the room.

• Avoid conversations about patients in elevators, hallways or other public areas.

• Double-check fax numbers before sending a fax and always use a cover sheet. If a machine has pre-programmed fax numbers, check them periodically to ensure they're up to date.

Privacy and confidentiality also feature in VUMC work standards, known as “credo behaviors”:

I respect privacy and confidentiality:

• only engage in conversations regarding patients according to Vanderbilt policies and regulatory requirements

• discuss confidential matters in a private area

• keep written/electronic information out of the view of others

• knock prior to entering a patient's room, identify myself, and ask permission to enter

• utilize doors/curtains/blankets as appropriate to ensure privacy and explain to the patient why I am doing this, ask permission prior to removing garments or blankets

Health Information Privacy and Security Week was launched by the American Health Information Management Association.

For more information or to report privacy concerns, contact the Privacy Office, 936-3594, www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/privacy.