Identification of AIDS Status Through Medical Alert System
Dentist Revises Process to Safeguard Medical Alert PHI
A recent OCR investigation of a dental practice’s flagging of patients records highlights a potential HIPAA violation. The OCR investigation confirmed allegations that the dental practice flagged some of its medical records with a red sticker with the word “AIDS” on the outside cover. Records were handled so that other patients and staff without need to know could read the sticker. A patient complaint commenced an OCR investigation into whether the practice potentially identified the AIDS status of patients within the office.
When notified of the complaint filed with OCR, the dental practice immediately removed the red AIDS sticker from the complainant’s file. To resolve this matter, OCR also required the practice to revise its policies and operating procedures and to move medical alert stickers to the inside cover of the records. Further, the covered entity’s Privacy Officer and other representatives met with the patient and apologized, and followed the meeting with a written apology.
The lesson here is not to place special medical alerts on the outside of physical patient records. This is a particularly bad practice in a dental office where the typical office setup can result in visual identification by other patients. If a patient is being escorted by staff and is seen by other patients, the identification on the outside of the patient’s chart can easily be connected to the patient. This creates a very sensitive potential violation of HIPAA and other laws protecting against disclosure of the AIDS status of individuals.
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Source: Health Law Blog