Privacy is essential to many people who are seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. Many of today’s healthcare privacy laws have grown out of clients’ fears that the disclosure of sensitive information, such as participation in an addiction treatment program, might tarnish their reputation or undermine a career.
Today, healthcare providers are legally required to safeguard the confidentiality of their patients’ medical records, which includes treatment for a substance use disorder. Even so, healthcare providers who offer addiction treatment must adopt reliable measures to effectively protect their clients’ privacy without fail.
Train Staff, and Then Train Them Again
Therapists may be well-versed with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal law protecting patient privacy, but that doesn’t mean their staff is. Does your clinic ever use temporary employees? Does every new employee undergo privacy training before starting work? Does your staff participate in workshops or meetings that focus on the topic of patient privacy?
It’s essential for physicians and medical centers to make their support staff aware of privacy matters and applicable laws. Discussing situations where information has been unlawfully shared, for example, can help staff members adopt best practices for safeguarding patient privacy.1
Address the Group
Many therapists who treat addiction are satisfied with the measures they take to ensure that they and their staff members effectively protect patient privacy. On the other hand, how can a therapist ensure that participants in group therapy will not divulge private information about other participants? This is one reason why many people may feel uncomfortable about participating in group therapy.
One of the things that practitioners can do to alleviate this discomfort is to tackle the issue head on. They can present participants with written policies and agreements designed to safeguard privacy. They can also request members to withhold personally identifying information from the group like surnames and employers.
Tune into Medical News
There has recently been speculation that the federal government may relax some privacy laws associated with a measure known as the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act. Critics are concerned that weakening this act will compromise patients’ privacy and deter them from seeking addiction treatment. To put this into perspective, people have real fears that their addiction will not only cost them their job, but could also cost them custody of their children or even lead to their arrest.
It’s essential for healthcare providers to monitor all legislation that could affect patient privacy. Patients need to understand that their confidentiality will continue to be protected by you and your staff or they might choose not to seek the treatment they so desperately need.2
Practitioners concerned about patient confidentiality should seek out continuing education workshops or classes that will help them find new measures to protect patients’ medical records and addiction diagnoses and treatment. It can be helpful to talk to other practitioners at local and regional meetings to share best practices associated with protecting client privacy. Be sure to let patients know all you’re doing to keep their status and treatment a private matter so they can focus on the matter at hand—their recovery.