Spending time with family and living life should not be sacrificed to HIPAA. That is, you can use your cell phone to communicate with your patients. And hopefully, you will from some scenic places, or while spending some quality family time.
HIPAA does not restrict your communications to encrypted emails, and landlines.
But you do have the continued obligations to implement technical, physical and administrative safeguards in using your cellphone as you do any other communication device.
So, if you are going to use your cell phone, be smart, and safe about it.
Make sure your cell phone is password protected if it has patient information on it. This is especially true if your phone is linked to your EHR and practice management electronic systems. If you’re going to send emails, you have to have the same encryption safeguards that you do with your office systems.
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Then makes sure you take steps to secure the phone physically. That has the locator functionally on in case you lose it. Control who you let use your phone. That is, don’t pass it to your teenager as an amusement device, or to call the friends.
And when you do speak with patients, its like the elevator at the hospitals – be cognizant of where you are when you do speak. Don’t carry on the call in a public place, find a corner or walk away from the crowd. And when speaking is cognizant of what you say, trying to avoid saying anything that could identify the patient, or publicly share sensitive personal health information.
A good practice is to tell your caller up front that you are on a cell phone and ask if it is ok to continue the conversation, or if they would prefer to be re-contacted when you can get to a landline or more secure location. This lets them know where you are and lets them take part of the responsibility for the call.
Another responsibility that does not change is the obligation to document. So, check out the recording features of your phone, again, password protection is a must. After the call, record a simple reminder note that the call occurred, when, any medical advice is given, and on what basis you make it. And if you are committing to calling in a prescription, make sure you record it and call it in. You need not dictate a full not, that can wait till later, but you want enough to know what to enter into the patient’s medical record when you do.
So, get out of the office without being out of patient contact. Far better, of course, is if you have coverage so you can get out of the office and be out of patient contact for at least a little while.