Corporate Compliance

HIPAA Q&A: Guarding against incidental disclosures

Compliance Monitor, February 15, 2012

Q: Our phlebotomy area has two drawing chairs and is divided by a curtain. Is it a HIPAA violation to draw two patients at the same time if they can overhear information regarding what tests are to be done on the other patient? We frequently have patients walk in for lab who have standing orders, and we need to be certain they are not coming from the doctor's office requiring additional lab tests for which we don't have orders yet.

A. Incidental disclosures, such as these, are not a ¬violation of the Privacy Rule, but you must take precautions to minimize the amount of information that may be overheard. The phlebotomist should always draw the curtain for visual privacy and keep his or her voice low. If there is a need to discuss sensitive tests with a patient (such as tests for HIV or sexually transmitted diseases), such discussions should be held when only one patient is in the drawing area. Otherwise, sensitive conversations should be held in a private consult room or office.

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 February issue of Briefings on HIPAA. Brandt is a nationally recognized expert on patient privacy, information security, and regulatory compliance, and her publications provided some of the basis for HIPAA’s privacy regulations.

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