Patients Can’t Violate HIPAA
Q. Can a patient violate HIPAA privacy laws?
A. No, according to an article in the current AMA News. The article, “Should doctors stop patients from taking smartphone pictures?” focuses on the emerging problem of photo-taking in physician offices.
The article is available in the AMA News under BUSINESS.
The article reports that some physicians are putting up signs stating that no cell phone conversations or picture-taking is allowed in their offices.
“Though the ban on telephone conversations was motivated by an attempt to keep down the annoyance factor, the implications of snapping pictures inside a practice can go beyond other patients getting a little irritated. If picture-taking is left unfettered, patients could feel violated and sense that a practice doesn’t take patient privacy seriously.”
The article also notes
“How a practice is held accountable when one patient violates another patient’s privacy can be tricky because, technically, patients cannot violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Ultimately, practices are duty-bound to do all they can to create an environment that respects patients and their privacy, experts say. If a patient’s waiting-room picture that gets posted on Facebook happens to include other patients, HIPAA violation or not, those patients might not be too happy.”
The statement that patients cannot violate HIPAA caught my attention. I had never heard of this before and frankly, it sounded inaccurate. Some clarity is provided in a later paragraph.
“Blustein said that if a patient’s privacy has been violated, regardless of whether the violation was caused by a fellow patient, he or she has every right to file a complaint with the Dept. of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. The department will not know whether the violation was caused by another patient until it investigates the situation. Even so, investigators will look for patient privacy policies and evidence of training and policy enforcement.”
Some practices may want to create a “no cell phone” area, much like high school classrooms. However there are drawbacks to that.
“While it is prudent to prohibit taking pictures inside a practice, he wouldn’t recommend that practices ban smartphone use altogether. When patients are sitting in waiting rooms, the wait will seem shorter if they can surf the Web, watch videos and check emails from their smartphones. Preventing them from doing so will just alienate or anger them, as well as create a high sense of anxiety for patients who already are nervous.”
It is much easier to enforce a “no cell phone rule” than just banning photos, since it is easy to take a picture from a smart phone clandestinely.