A Georgetown County woman who had to take her 19-year-old son to Waccamaw Community Hospital recently says she feels the hospital’s patient privacy rules were being broken.
However, hospital officials say no laws were violated and efforts are made to protect a patient’s privacy as much as possible.
Deborah Rodgers was in the emergency room with her son Nov. 20 when she said she heard what she considers to be a violation taking place.
Her son was in the ER to get help with a drug habit he was trying to kick, she said.
As they were waiting in one pod in the ER, a woman in the adjacent pod — separated by only a curtain — was talking by way of a teleconference with a doctor. The conversation, according to Rodgers, was loud enough that it could be heard throughout much of the emergency room.
“We could hear her whole life story. The doctor was asking her all kinds of questions about her drug use and her relationship with her parents,” Rodgers said. “And they were really intimate questions.”
Rodgers said the same thing later happened to her son. She estimates there were 50-60 people in the emergency room when her son was questioned about his drug use.
“When it was time for my son’s conference, it was shared with the entire ER also. One of the nurse’s told me they have to do it like this because they are so under staffed,” Rodgers said. As we were leaving, there was another teleconference taking place. Not real sure what they were covering but I’m sure the entire ER was able to listen.”
Rodgers said she has filed a complaint with the Joint Commission. about her concerns and has attempted to meet with hospital management.
“This is a hospital that needs better management,” Rodgers said.
Georgetown Hospital System chief operating officer Gayle L. Resetar issued a statement to The Georgetown Times this week. She said emergency rooms are typically designed as open treatment areas to maximize visibility and access to patients. Cubicle curtains are used frequently rather than doors to assure easy access in the event of an emergency.
“Due to the nature of this care environment, the potential exists for an individual’s health information to be disclosed incidentally,” Resetar said. “For example, a hospital visitor may overhear a provider’s confidential conversation with another provider or a patient, or may glimpse a patient’s information on a sign-in sheet.”
Resetar said the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (privacy law) is not intended to impede these customary and essential communications and practices and does not require that all risk of incidental use or disclosure be eliminated to comply with privacy standards.
The law “permits certain incidental uses and disclosures of protected health information to occur when hospitals have in place reasonable safeguards to protect an individual’s privacy. It is not expected that these safeguards guarantee the privacy of protected health information from any and all potential risks,” Resetar said.
She said Georgetown Hospital System has safeguards in place to keep patient information as confidential as possible. They include:
n Speaking quietly when discussing a patient’s condition with family members in a waiting room or other public area.
n Avoiding using patient’s names in public hallways and elevators, and posting signs to remind employees to protect patient confidentiality.
n Securing medical records.
n Providing additional security, such as passwords, on computers maintaining personal information.
“Protection of patient confidentiality in every care setting is an important practice at Georgetown Hospital System. We train our staff on HIPAA regulations, practices and the above mentioned safeguards,” Resetar said.
By Scott Harper
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