A health practice, more than many other businesses, needs to focus on client confidentiality and privacy. You have close relationships with your clients and, when providing services, your clients may share sensitive health information.
When it comes to health services, confidentiality and privacy are two different concepts.
Note that different countries, states and/or territories may have their own legislation regarding confidentiality and privacy obligations.
Privacy refers to the handling of personal information about individuals (what can and can’t be done with someone’s personal information).
Confidentiality ensures people or entities protect another person’s or entity’s information that has been conveyed in confidence and which isn’t readily available to the public.
‘Medical confidentiality’ obliges a health professional to protect (limit access to) the information discussed confidentially between themselves and a client.
The obligation of confidentiality goes beyond committing not to divulge confidential information; it includes a responsibility to store all records containing client information securely and ensure that appropriate security levels are maintained at all times.
Why is Protecting Client Confidentiality and Privacy a Priority?
Client confidentiality and privacy are essential to maintaining the integrity of the health sector and should be followed because they help:
1. Build Client Trust
Trust is an integral element of all health treatments and consults. Clients disclose very personal information to those in the healthcare industry with the understanding that it will only be used to help them. Without trust, people will be less likely to seek help when they need it or share the full details of their condition.
2. Protect Against Digital Hacking
According to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, United States legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions), hacking is now the leading cause of healthcare data breaches. Loss of this information can lead to events of identity theft and fraud, which have the potential to damage clients’ lives and livelihoods.
From 2020 to 2021, there was a 25% increase in healthcare data breaches. Information-rich healthcare records containing clients’ dates of birth, credit card information, Social Security numbers and more are targeted by criminals for identity theft and financial fraud. These records can sell for up to $1,000 each on the dark web.
3. Prevent Legal and Disciplinary Action
Data breaches and failure to uphold client confidentiality and privacy can result in a range of consequences, from fines to prison sentences for those responsible. It’s best for practitioners and staff to uphold this responsibility as data breaches can have legal consequences.
If your practice has fallen victim to a breach, it’s likely that you’ll face investigation by the privacy commission within your country and possibly even the police. They’ll seek to determine what caused the breach, the identities of the perpetrators and your level of liability.
5 Ways to Maintain Client Confidentiality and Privacy
The digital world has transformed client confidentiality and privacy. So, how can you help to protect your clients’ information?
1. Create Detailed Policies
Drawing up all-encompassing and wide-ranging confidentiality and privacy policies means that everybody on your team knows exactly what’s expected of them.
A confidentiality agreement is, in its essence, a legal document which specifies exactly what information cannot be shared outside of the working premises. This policy should be read thoroughly by every staff member and signed. It can also be shared with clients to demonstrate that your practice upholds strict confidentiality procedures.
2. Provide Regular Training
People adhere best to policies and procedures when they fully understand why the policies are in place. To get buy-in from your team, hold regular training sessions for all employees to reinforce how essential confidentiality and privacy requirements are, and provide a refresh of staff duties and expectations.
Training should be provided on commencement to a new role and annually. Each training session should be documented by employees by signing a training document or a register.
3. Secure Your IT System
Many practices may face challenges in correctly storing client information, both in terms of where the data is stored and how to make the information accessible to team members. With these challenges is the ever-present threat of hacking, so it’s essential that the highest level of security and digital protection is used when storing client data. Using cloud-based software like Power Diary helps to maintain data safety.
Furthermore, it’s important that only the necessary personnel have access to practice data. Levels of password protection that control access reduce the likelihood of a data breach as well.
- Practitioners, employees and any other users always log into all computers, devices and data systems using their own accounts.
- Account details should never be shared with anyone, including co-workers.
- Passwords should use 2-Factor Authentication (2FA).
- Users’ access to databases should be limited via the permissions to only the functions and access required to perform their job.
4. Limit Mobile Phone Use
If employees use their personal mobile phones while in the practice, it can lead to confidentiality and privacy breaches, particularly if they are using the phone’s camera.
Imagine a case where a staff member took a photo of themselves at work and posted it on Facebook with the caption TGIF. It seems innocent enough, right? Until you notice that you can zoom in on the photo and see the computer screen with clients’ details. This is a breach of privacy law that can lead to an investigation by a privacy commission, the staff member losing their job and the practice being fined.
In a perfect world, the way to eliminate possible threats to client confidentiality and privacy is to strictly limit or remove mobile phones from client areas. This would ensure that no one could either maliciously or accidentally record or photograph private records or information. As you can imagine, this would be a difficult if not impossible rule to enforce, given the proliferation of digital devices. However, regularly reminding staff and clients that the use of mobiles should be kept to a minimum and why it’s in their best interests can help reduce resistance.
You should also check online reviews of your practice regularly. Clients may take happy snaps of themselves in waiting rooms and reception areas which may include other clients or confidential information. Practices would benefit from signage asking that phones not be used and communicating that photography is not permitted.
5. Print Carefully and Sparingly
Once all your technical solutions and security are in place, it can be tempting to think you have everything sorted. However, printed materials that contain key client information are often overlooked. Labels, forms and printed notes can easily be misplaced or even stolen if they’re in a busy area of the practice. Rather, take the time to detail a streamlined, secure printing process that covers both when and how to print materials, and how to dispose of them correctly.
1. Client Confidentiality
Ensure that all employees are trained and understand that all client information is private and confidential. Employees are responsible for maintaining client privacy in accordance with all federal and local/state regulations.
2. Client File Management
Outline how the practice handles the personal information collected (including health information) and how the security of this information is protected.
3. Third-Party Requests
Define the procedures for the timely, approved and secure transfer of client health information in relation to valid requests.
4. Client Access
Ensure that employees understand and comply with client rights regarding access to their own health information.
5. Privacy Breaches
A data breach occurs when client information is subject to unapproved access or disclosure or is lost. Data breaches can happen to any practice, so you need to know how your business will respond if and when a breach occurs.
Client confidentiality and privacy protection have important implications for healthcare practices, as failure to implement policies and procedures can have consequences ranging from reputation damage to fines or even prison.
- Give clients confidence that their information is safe and will remain private,
- Ensure your team has a detailed guide that ensures they maintain client confidentiality and privacy,
- Have an action plan in place with a step-by-step process to follow if a breach occurs.
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