Health Information Management

Q&A: HIPAA and discarded PHI found on-site

HIM-HIPAA Insider, September 6, 2011

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Q: As a hospital employee, I found a patient wristband on the sidewalk outside the emergency department. Apparently, a patient removed the wristband and discarded it. I retrieved it and disposed of it in a trash receptacle. Later, I questioned whether I should have shredded the armband because it contained PHI. The patient appeared not to care about his PHI, as evidenced by his method of discarding the wristband. Was discarding it in a trash receptacle without shredding it permissible? 

A: As an employee of a covered entity, you have a responsibility to protect PHI wherever you find it. You should have discarded the wristband in a shred bin, rather than discarding it in the regular trash.
 
Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX, answered this question in the September issue of Briefings on HIPAA.



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