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When Talking, Patient Privacy an Issue and a Right

Posted Jun 18 2010 6:19am

A growing number of nurses and other healthcare workers have been fired from their jobs for postings on social media sites deemed to violate patient privacy.  This is a real concern and will be the subject of another post. But here’s another scenario that needs to be addressed – private conversations held in public places in healthcare facilities.

My husband was recently an in-patient in a hospital. While I was visiting him, a psychiatrist came into the room to have a consultation with my husband’s roommate. In the course of that interaction, the roommate admitted he was depressed and had thoughts about suicide. I felt so uncomfortable and embarrassed to overhear this. It was impossible for me to tune it out because of the small size of the room and volume of their voices. I would have had to leave my husband alone if I chose to leave the room (my husband was bed-bound) and he would have heard it even if I had left. This is one reason why the trend in hospital design is to have all private rooms!

I also overheard conversations in this and other healthcare settings, while visiting a loved one, that should have been held in private.

If I had been the man in the next bed, I would not have been willing to discuss such personal health matters in ear-shot of strangers. But he was older and perhaps didn’t consider his privacy or didn’t feel comfortable asking for a private setting in which to talk. Some folks do not always assert themselves in healthcare situations and accept things as they are even though they feel uncomfortable in some way.

With all of our concerns about HIPPA regulations and the privacy of what is in writing in medical records, reports, and social media sites, perhaps we all need to take a good hard look at what we say out loud in healthcare settings and even in public/social settings.  These might include patient room communication, conversations behind the nurses’ desk and in the charting/break room when the door is open, discussion over meals and breaks in caferterias, and even when out to dinner with a friend. You just never know who is listening.

Every healthcare consumer has a right to safe and confidential care and should be able to feel confident in knowing that their personal information is respected and kept private by all healthcare workers in all settings.

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