Physicians at Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) are asked to observe the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines, and to continue to make patient privacy a priority. According to Debbie Sarantopoulos, RHIA, director of Health Information Management and the privacy officer at NCH, “privacy” encompasses adherence to policies regarding access to both patients’ paper and electronic medical records.
“Physicians should only access the minimum amount of information that is needed to provide excellent patient care,” Sarantopoulos says. “This is important for our medical staff to remember, since our physicians have open access to patient information.” She emphasizes that physicians should only access the medical records of their own patients, or of those for whom they are serving in a consultant capacity. “A physician should never access the records of friends, family members, ‘high profile’ patients or anyone for whom they are not the treating or consulting physician,” she says. Physicians may access their own medical records.
Sarantopoulos stresses that NCH utilizes both reactive and proactive measures to minimize violation of the privacy polices. “We routinely conduct audits of EMR usage to determine if there has been any inappropriate access,” she says. “In addition, any reports of inappropriate access will be investigated by the Medical Executive Committee. If a physician is found to have accessed information inappropriately he or she may lose privileges at NCH.”
Sarantopoulos says physicians should not share their CareLink passwords used to access EMRs, with anyone, even their office staff. “If a physician’s password is used by someone else to access information inappropriately, it will be the physician who is held responsible,” she says. “It is important to safeguard passwords to prevent abuse.” Office staff can apply for their own passwords to the Carelink system by contacting the Physician Outreach Department at 847.618.5280. Physicians may also report a breach of protected health information to Debbie Sarantopoulos at 847.618.4935.