The Strategies for Protecting Patient Privacy
Protecting the privacy of cancer patients in a healthcare environment can present a difficult challenge. This challenge has only been made more difficult with the widespread use of electronic health records. Of course, while electronic health records have their benefits, they can easily result in privacy breaches. And unless privacy concerns are addressed with effective approaches, their outcome can potentially compromise a patient’s well being.
HIPAA has played an increasingly important role in protecting the privacy of individuals who are being treated for an illness. Two common approaches to safeguarding patient privacy, in concurrence with HIPAA, include access restriction and accountability. Restricting access to medical records can reduce potential privacy violations. On the other hand, restricted access can potentially harm a patient if a medical facility is unable to access a record in a timely manner. For many cancer patients, time is of the essence, and failing to act quickly can potentially result in litigation. Several cancers, including mesothelioma and ancreatic cancer, have extremely short life expectancies that are rarely longer than 14 months. The accountability approach works differently; it promotes greater access to medical records. The goal is to prevent potential delays; however, the method is heavily protected by an audit trail, surveillance, and even an investigation if complications arise. By increasing the likelihood of getting caught and facing negative consequences, privacy violations are severely deterred when using this approach.
The most important thing to remember though is that privacy protections, above all, must not increase the risk of harm to patients. If healthcare is inhibited by security policy – there is something clearly wrong. Privacy is important, but there is a very fine line that health care professionals must walk when treating their patients and keeping their records secure.