Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Medical Privacy and Reality

I had an interesting experience at the local hospital this week.  My doctor ordered some lab work be done and sent me to the hospital to have my tests done.
I arrived at the hospital (after huge renovations these past 5 years) and immediately got in line for reception.  There reception is where all patients must wait in line for an attendant who does a check-in procedure, looking at insurance information and making sure billing records are up to date.
I get in line behind 2 women who are trying to give their name to the receptionist, so they can be entered into the computer for check in.
The receptionist is an old lady volunteer, we will call her Phyllis".  She was kind but ineffective.  The line was growing quickly, now 2 more people were behind me and the line wasn't progressing.
Phyllis's job was to enter names on the computer, which alerted check that clients were waiting. Check In People would call clients into a private office to go over personal information.

For whatever reason, Phyllis was not using a computer, but instead a post-it note and a pen.  She had trouble hearing, requiring the patients to shout their names and the spelling as well as yelling what their business was at the hospital.  So, Emily Jones - gynecology, Jane Doe - psychotherapy, etc.
By the time I got there, her post-it note was full, so Phyllis started another.  She directed us to sit in a chair and "wait" to be called.
I took a seat and waited next to a woman who seemed even more frustrated than me. I turned to her and asked if she thought our names would ever make it off the post it.
Sure enough, Phyllis called the LAST name that was on the list, first!  So, the last person that arrived, only seconds ago, was the first to check in.
The woman sitting beside me, went up to Phyllis and explained that other people were waiting longer.
Phyllis was unimpressed.
A young man waited in line and went he got to Phyllis, she was overjoyed to see him.  She started laughing and having a warm conversation.  Sadly, the check in lady kept calling out to Phyllis to send in the next client.
Phyllis was not deterred, she wanted to finish her conversation. She hadn't seen this young man since he was in grade school.

Finally, she called out a name.  No one moved. She repeated it.  Again, no one moved.  People started getting antsy and the irritated woman said, "that person isn't here."  Phyllis called out the next name on the list and the lucky person went in.
Phyllis yelled to us to "please be patient".  I rolled my eyes and felt like a trapped rat.

When I finally went into check in, I voiced my frustration to the check in woman that reception was inefficient and a nightmare.  Check in lady ignored my words.  I decided to pull out the big guns and dropped the HIPPA bombshell (Health Information Privacy) - "I think that my privacy is being violated at reception. I am not comfortable yelling out my name, the spelling on my name and the department that I am going to for all to hear.  I am not comfortable with my information and name being on a post it note at the main reception desk in the hands of a volunteer."

This got some reaction.  The check in woman became immediately nervous, turned red and spilled out excuses for Phyllis.  She then proceeded to go through my check in process as quickly as possible, asking me questions pertaining to my financial status with a trainee present.  I handed her my insurance card and told her that my information has not changed in over 10 years.
She asked where I was employed.  I repeated that the information has not changed and neither has my job.
She responded that they had no job on file.  I told her that was fine, let's keep it that way.
The trainee laughed and Check In Woman got the hint.  I was out of there in 20 seconds.

The check in process did not respect my privacy and yet I had to sign three papers releasing my private information so the hospital can bill my insurance company!  A trainee, a 80+ year old partially deaf volunteer and everyone in the main entrance of the hospital knows my private information. Is this what HIPPA had in mind to protect my privacy?

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