Protecting Patient Privacy
While trying to provide good patient care, the clinical environment can be chaotic at times due to time constraints. Many patients treated in the hyperbaric department are also treated in the wound center, requiring collaborative efforts between both departments.
With the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), providing patient privacy is not only the law but is also sometimes difficult to ensure in the monoplace environment. Although my department has two patient-changing rooms and several privacy curtains, including a curtain between both chambers, patients occasionally pass each other when either coming from the changing room, to and from the bathroom, or entering or leaving the department. Occasionally, patients will speak to each other in passing and will share both their medical and treatment information with one another.
Hyperbaric patients receive daily treatments, and because of this we, as certified hyperbaric technologists (CHTs), spend a great deal of time with them. We develop a comfort zone and a friendship with each patient. This is good because sometimes patients seek comfort from those they trust. We value and respect each patient’s right to privacy. I want patients to have trust and confidence not only in my competencies relating to the job but also that they can depend on me to protect their privacy during their treatments.
On one occasion, the biomedical tech came into the chamber room to speak with me regarding a problem with one of the chambers, but I was prepping a patient for treatment. The biomed tech attempted to come through the privacy curtain, but I quickly stopped him. Although a patient seems amiable with other staff members coming in, it’s not OK.
On another occasion, an employee from another department in the hospital came in to speak with me, and the patient was clearly uncomfortable. So I now make every effort to obtain patient permission before introducing them to another staff member. I myself have been hospitalized and can recall how compromised I felt. As a patient, you tend to feel at the mercy of those around you. Having to wear a hospital gown makes one feel compromised and vulnerable. It’s absolutely crucial for the CHT to recognize when this occurs and to do everything possible to prevent it through protecting the patient’s privacy.
Take home message: Stay vigilant in your efforts to ensure patient privacy at all times. A good CHT first needs to be a good patient-care provider, one who makes it a priority to protect and maintain patient privacy.