What Would You Do…To Violate HIPAA?

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I really am not a fan of practical jokes. To me, there’s just no enjoyment in putting a person in an uncomfortable or stressful position for no other reason than fun. Call me a killjoy, but that’s what I think.

And, I’m really not a fan of this show, “What Would You Do?” for the same reason. The sociologist in me enjoys some of the experiments, but like with pretty much every other show that started out with good intentions, it’s gone off the goofy crap-o-meter. Here was last night’s premis:

An actor is playing a pharmacy tech. Other actors are in line pretending to be customers. Then, there’s the one legit customer there to pick up his/her prescription.

As legit customer is waiting in line, the pharmacy tech (who is an extremely loud talker), calls out, “Viagra. This Viagra is for you sir, right?” He points to an uncomfortable “customer” in line who shuffles up to pick up his meds. Pharmacy tech: “You’re kinda young to need Viagra, aren’t you?” As the “customer” slinks away, his medical condition having just been revealed to everyone in earshot, the pharmacy tech shouts out, “You know to call your doctor if that lasts over four hours, right?” Without missing a beat, the tech grabs another vag filled with a prescription and calls out, “The genital wart cream is ready. That’s you, right, ma’am? I saw you in here last week picking up Plan B. You need to be careful.”

Anyone who works in health care will tell you that it’s easy to violate HIPAA just because of this thing called oral communication. No doctor or nurse would ever let you look at another patient’s chart without written permission. But, I’ve sat in an exam room with paper thin walls and a loud talking doc next door and was able to hear every word. I’ve witnessed physicians walking down the hall having just examined another patient, talking into their Dictaphone where others can hear every detail. Walk through any hospital and you’re likely to overhear caregivers talking about patients. It’s necessary-caregivers have to communicate to other caregivers. Thing is, I think, most health care pros know what discretion is.

“What Would You Do?” has a single point: let’s see what happens when we put people into awkward or illegal situations. I don’t find it funny. I don’t find HIPAA violations funny. Here’s why…

Let’s say one of these legit customers in line is picking up a script for something. Doesn’t have to be something “embarrassing”, but what if they just don’t want it announced to the world they need Flo Max? What if they have a anxiety disorder and they are waiting to pick up their Zanex or Prozac? What if the person has a severe mental disorder like bi-polar and they don’t want it announced to the rest of the customers? For the few minutes that the legit customer is in line, he/she can be undergoing major stress thinking their health is going to be revealed. We don’t know what kind of stress it puts another under, so can we all just agree that this episode topic was a bad idea? And that HIPAA is a good thing and should be adhered to as much as possible?

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  • Heather McFarland

    It’s important to note that Covered Entities and Business Associates should be focusing on the true merits of HIPAA compliance, and that’s putting in place documented HIPAA information security and operational policies, procedures, and processes. I’ve worked with so many healthcare providers that lack the basic and fundamental documentation for HIPAA compliance, therefore it’s easy to see why non-compliance issues are still a major factor with HIPAA. I also hear healthcare companies express cost concerns about developing such documents, along with implementing risk assessment and security training initiatives, but with all the free and cost-effective tools available (some of them straight from hhs.gov!), there’s really no excuse for not being HIPAA compliant. Everyone needs to be ensuring the safety and security of PHI, it’s really that simple.

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