Oh my poor ears, was that PHI I just heard?

Aug. 14, 2017 / By Kelly Long, BS, CPC, CPCO, CAPM

Being familiar with the healthcare industry has proven most valuable over the years. However, it is also a curse. We are expected to react to certain situations that others take for granted.   Imagine sitting in a provider’s waiting room, settling in and awaiting your name to be called and suddenly it occurs, I could hear personal healthcare information (PHI) being loudly discussed from the provider’s front office staff. Of course I am sure they had no intent to disclose PHI but it does occur. Not only did I hear a patient’s first and last name, but I also heard what commercial carrier he had, the tests needed to be ordered and his ordering diagnoses.

Those of us in the healthcare industry have all run into these situations. In the above instance it turned out that a new hire was being trained. But regardless of the situation, PHI is exactly that: PERSONAL healthcare information. We expect that information not to be loudly broadcasted. I, like all of you, expect my confidential information to remain confidential.

You may wonder how I handled the above situation. Well I was certainly not shy. I proceeded to approach the front desk and let them know that although training is most important that they should probably do it in a more secure location as they are disclosing PHI to those in the waiting room. The offenders immediately turned bright red and stated they did not know their voices were carrying that far.

I was then called into the room to see my provider. While getting my vitals taken there was a soft knock on the door. It was the office manager who wanted to assure me that she would address this situation swiftly and that she was most embarrassed it had occurred. She had overheard me when I approached the front desk and thanked me for my due diligence in alerting them that PHI was being disclosed.

Whether you are on the clock at your full time job or waiting to see your provider our knowledge of what is wrong and right is always there. The expectation at 3M is to always handle PHI in accordance with strict policies and to exercise caution in the performance of all tasks and responsibilities to protect all sensitive information.

Protecting PHI is of the upmost importance. It is evident in the situation above that even in our personal time we are always defenders of protecting this private, confidential and secure information.

Kelly Long is a clinical development analyst with 3M Health Information Systems.