Health Information Management

Q&A: HIM director access to colleague's medical records

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 6, 2012

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Q: Is it permissible for the HIM director to access the medical records of a colleague who is hospitalized?

A. The answer to this frequently asked question is that it depends on the circumstances. The HIM director, just like any other employee at your facility, is limited in that he or she may only access the minimum necessary information to do his or her job. Does the HIM director need to access the colleague’s record in the course of business? If so, then access is permitted.

However, it is a good idea for organizations to have policies that encourage (or even require, unless it is an emergency situation) employees to transfer work to others if it involved people they know. Of course, in the case you noted above, it is likely that everyone knows the person in question as he or she is a work colleague. Generally, however, if an employee’s relative or family member is hospitalized, that employee should have someone else handle the record if at all possible to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

In any case, the HIM director is bound by law and ethics to not divulge information to anyone who does not need it to do their job. So, even if he or she accesses the information (to code it, for example), the HIM director cannot share any of the information with anyone else at work or at home, including the fact that the colleague is hospitalized.

Editor’s note: Chris Simons, RHIA, director of health information and privacy officer at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, NH, answered this question in the March issue of Medical Records Briefing.

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