Health Information Management

Q&A: Overhead paging

HIM-HIPAA Insider, February 2, 2009

Q. Is overhead paging a patient by name back to a clinic or hospital area a HIPAA violation?

A.
It depends on whether the name of the clinic or area would reveal anything about the patient’s condition. Paging, “John Jones to report to the HIV Clinic,” would obviously violate his privacy. Paging him to the Medicine Clinic would reveal much less information.

A better approach, though, would be to ask the patient to dial a specific extension for more information (e.g., “John Jones, please call extension 2500”).

Most healthcare organizations significantly limit the amount of overhead paging that staff members do, to both protect patient privacy and minimize disruptions to others. Some organizations give patients flashing pagers, similar to those used to in restaurants, to notify them when to return to treatment areas.

Editor's note: Mary Brandt, president of Bellaire, TX-based Brandt & Associates, LLC, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney regarding legal matters.

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