Nursing

How HIPAA may improve your public image

Nurse Leader Insider, September 14, 2007

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Every time a patient asks a question about HIPAA, your staff members have an obligation to answer correctly and in compliance with the regulation. HIPAA requires accuracy, but providing that alone is a missed opportunity for your facility. With a bit of extra effort, your staff members could significantly improve your facility's public image by stressing why you comply and how you are constantly working to protect patient information.

"I can't think of the last time I walked into a healthcare provider's office and had them tell me how great they are at keeping my information confidential,'' says Lori-Ann Rickard, JD, a healthcare lawyer for Rickard & Associates, PC, in St. Clair Shores, MI. "They hand you a Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP), and that's it. But there's so much in the news now about privacy . . . I think there are great public relations possibilities in that. You have to do it anyway, and it doesn't cost you anything extra. You're providing a service; why not get the [positive public relations] out of it?''

Change how your staff thinks

How can you convert routine questions into opportunities to promote your institution? For starters, make sure that your staff members are following all of the HIPAA rules and understand the regulation well enough to answer questions correctly. Then teach them to go a step beyond mere accuracy, and explain to patients why you follow these rules and how it helps protect patient rights.

Explain your procedures

Patients may misunderstand what information you can give out, says Rickard. "It really helps to explain. Tell them that you are doing everything for their protection, and make sure the office follows through on their wishes," she explains. Otherwise, patients just feel like you are making them fill out yet another piece of paper, she says. It's also important to have sound procedures for managing complaints in a timely, professional fashion. Make sure that you've trained staff members to talk respectfully with patients, families, and friends. Investigate any complaints they may have, and get back to them quickly so they feel that you are taking them seriously, Rickard says. Don't be afraid to apologize.

Editor's Note: This excerpt was adapted from the article, "Make HIPAA work for you: Take a customer service approach for better public relations" featured in the Reading Room on HCPro's new online resource center, www.StrategiesForNurseManagers.com!



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