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HIPAA dos and don’ts for nurses


Thinkstock | monkeybusinessimages

Thinkstock | monkeybusinessimages

The Nerdy Nurse knows that HIPAA is on your mind, especially with the extra attention it has been given lately and the scrutinized levels of privacy and security in hospitals. Brittney and her team decided to “bottom line” the rules for you, so you can get the highlight reel of how HIPAA affects your job and the things you do every day. Below, check out some of her dos and don’ts for dealing with HIPAA.

Do keep a sterile environment
One of the first thing people tell us when we begin to talk about HIPAA is that they lock their filing cabinets. Well, you should. Take it a step further. You need to maintain a sterile environment. Look around. The environment should be sterile—free of patient information in plain view. Do an inspection:

  • Are computer screens or monitors visible to patients or visitors?
  • Do you have paper inboxes with patient information visible to the public?
  • Do you have appointment calendars or room assignments openly displayed in patient areas?

The public is watching and they are complaining. A Behind the Desk report published by a union advocacy group, Change to Win, was crafted after undercover advocates visited Walgreens stores throughout the country looking for privacy violations. The Behind the Desk report was published on the Internet and complaints were filed with numerous state governments.

Don’t just trash it
We all know that paper files need to be shredded. You don’t just throw paper files in the wastebasket. What about all the other stuff that has patient information on it? Yes, that too needs to be properly wiped or disposed of under the HIPAA Rule. That includes everything from prescription bottles [to] patient out-check sheets, CD-ROMs, thumb drives, old computers, phones, copiers, fax machines, and just about everything.

There have been numerous cases of improper item disposal containing patient information. First, the debacle involving CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens with pill bottles found in a public dumpster. Then there came CBS Evening News’ purchase of Affinity Health Plan’s leased photocopier which contained PHI. Recently, Midwest Women’s Healthcare Specialists at Research Medical Center in Kansas found itself the spotlight after paper documents containing patient information [were] found in the public dumpster beyond their office building. Be careful what you toss in the [garbage] can.

Do avoid filing errors
Remember the feared traditional misfiling errors? “I cannot find Karen Smith’s file. Has anyone seen it?” It must have been misfiled. The same thing happens in the electronic world. The consequences, however, can be much more disastrous. There have been numerous cases where health care staff has filed patient information in the wrong folder or drive. Call it fat finger, or whatever. Case in point is Skaget County Health Department, where patient files were discovered on the public network drive. Be careful [where] you save things!

To read the full story, head on over to The Nerdy Nurse. Then, in the comments below, give us your own thoughts and advice on HIPAA!

The Nerdy Nurse
Brittney Wilson, RN, BSN, also known as The Nerdy Nurse, is a Clinical Informatics Specialist practicing in Georgia. In her day job she gets to do what she loves every day: Combine technology and healthcare to improve patient outcomes. She can best be described as a patient, nurse and technology advocate, and has a passion for using technology to innovate, improve and simplify lives, especially in healthcare. Brittney blogs about nursing issues, technology, healthcare, parenting and various lifestyle topics at

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