Privacy breaches in the waiting room: how your check-in process affects patient safety
“Um…I have [insert embarrassing symptoms here]…”
Each question asked and answered in a waiting room represents a risk of privacy breach, and, consequently, a threat to patient safety.
Consider how uncomfortable it already is for a patient to discuss their symptoms, conditions and test results. But if they believe others in the waiting room can hear them, they may also be more likely to:
- withhold important medical information; and/or
- speak in hushed tones, rendering speech recognition less accurate—and leading to medical errors.
In other words, if the patient’s perception of privacy is threatened, their way of dealing with it may actually put their own personal safety at risk.
And to boot, a breach of patient confidentiality can negatively impact their trust in your healthcare team—even resulting in them taking their business elsewhere.
Do you have an auditory privacy problem?
You don’t have to be a sound engineer to figure out if your waiting room has a problem with oral privacy. Just listen.
- Can seated patients in the waiting area hear others as they check in with the receptionist?
- Can people standing in line hear conversations that are meant to be private?
If you answer yes to either of these questions, you should consider creating safeguards to better protect your patients’ confidentiality.
Transforming your registration / check-in process
There are several ways to minimize the possibility of privacy breach between staff and patients.
For example, music or a television can help drive focus away from the registration desk; and acoustic ceilings, carpeting, and barriers like doors and walls can help with noise.
But the most effective solution may be to make changes to your actual registration/check-in process.
In a 2012 PatientWay client survey, more than one-third of respondents said that patients complain about cramming people too closely in a lineup, as it puts their privacy at risk.
Consider making changes to the way patients share information with staff upon arrival, such as:
- Asking patients to stand a few feet back from the registration counter.
- Creating a waiting barrier line by placing tape on the floor with a sign saying “Please wait here.”
- Implementing a patient self-service kiosk. Many patients prefer the experience of checking in using a kiosk to registering with a nurse or administrator. Patients can enter their personal data on a touch screen designed to prevent others from reading it at an angle. This allows patients to provide sensitive information much more discretely than they would face-to-face with an administrator at the check-in desk.
By providing a waiting room where patients can disclose their personal information freely and comfortably, you will not only help decrease the risk of privacy breach: you will also increase patient safety, and maintain their loyalty.
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