As the United States is in varying stages of opening versus shutting down in response to COVID-19, the definition of "workplace" has become a very fuzzy concept. Sometimes I work at home, and sometimes I work at the office. I hear from some parents will be working with a "pod" of children learning virtually in their homes. And yes, some employees have resumed working at coffee shops. This changing reality of where we are working brought this popular blog from 2019 to mind - so here is one from the archives...
The other day I stopped by my favorite local coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up. I ordered my guilty pleasure – a brown sugar rosemary latte – and sat down in the only available seat on the lobby couch to wait.
A few minutes later, a young woman came in and sat down next to me, opened her laptop, and began clack-clacking away (a common occurrence, as this coffee place is known as an unofficial co-working space).
I got up to get my latte, sat back down, and noticed that the woman was on the phone. I began reading an article about a recent HIPAA breach (in a moment you will learn the irony in this), and tried not to be distracted by her call. But, I couldn’t help but notice she seemed to be talking about a patient. She mentioned the patient’s name and birthday, and then scheduled an appointment for him. She went on to do this for several other patients. Then she called a few patients to check on their condition and well-being. I also couldn’t help but notice that she was typing information into some kind of EMR database.
If this was a cartoon, my head would have exploded at this moment.
When my disbelief faded into the reality that this person – perhaps some kind of case worker or social worker – was in fact discussing patients and their health care information – I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Does this really happen? Am I on some kind of brainy reality TV show for HIPAA professionals? How could two people sitting on the same couch have such different reactions to these phone calls? How could I be so appalled – and this woman be oblivious and even pleased to be accomplishing so much?
I’ll tell you why: awareness and training.
I think about HIPAA all the time. I follow HIPAA settlements and headlines daily, blog about them, and build training programs and policies around them. So, I see HIPAA everywhere.
I don’t know what kind of HIPAA training my couch neighbor has had. It could be she was trained extensively and chose to ignore the advice. Or perhaps it is more likely that she wasn’t trained on HIPAA – or at least, not recently – and not on protecting patient privacy when working remotely.
What about your staff? Would they know what to do?