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Medical Transcription: Safeguard Patient Privacy

HIPAA or no HIPAA, all medical transcriptionists have an ethical and moral responsibility to protect patient confidentiality. It’s part of the job description. There are some steps you should routinely take as part of handling patient data in a professional matter:

  • Don’t talk about reports you’ve transcribed. Exchanging tidbits of non-identifiable information is acceptable, but never include any details that may identify the patient, even indirectly.

  • Put away sensitive data when you leave your work area or when someone else enters it. That includes not leaving a report in progress up on your computer screen where someone passing by may see it. Enabling password protection on your screensaver can help with this.

  • Don’t retain patient data any longer than necessary. Wipe it from your computer hard drive, shred it, or otherwise securely dispose of it as soon as you no longer need it. If you’re required to retain something, such as a transcription log, secure it by locking it in a filing cabinet or password-protected location.

  • Password-protect your computer, even if it’s in your home. Password-cracking software is very good at guessing passwords, so don’t just use your cousin’s dog’s name. A secure password is at least six characters long, includes uppercase and lowercase letters, includes punctuation marks and/or numbers, and isn’t listed in any dictionary.

    Don’t publish your carefully crafted password by attaching it to your computer monitor with a sticky note. Write it down somewhere, but not somewhere anyone can easily get his hands on it.

  • If you change computers, securely erase the hard drive on the old one before handing it over to a recycling facility or handing it down to a relative. Use a secure-erase utility or reformat the drive entirely. Simply deleting sensitive files isn’t enough, because deleted data is easy to recover by those in the know.

  • Protect your computer from Internet-based hackers with firewall and antivirus software. For added protection, shut down your computer when you’re not using it. When it’s not on, there’s no way anyone from the Internet can break in, no matter how clever she is.

  • Lock your laptop and keep security in mind when you take it on the road. If someone breaks into your residence or hotel room and makes off with it, they may well walk off with PHI in addition to your valuable laptop. You can buy cable locks that enable you to securely fasten a laptop to a work surface.

If you’re working from home, don’t let the relaxed surroundings lull you into a false sense of security. The world is an unpredictable place; hackers, burglars, and Mother Nature are just a few of the forces you can’t control. You can, however, take steps to protect the personal and confidential information entrusted to you.

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