Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA mostly affects the confidentiality of patient medical records including prescription records. With more and more electronic submission of personal data to health professionals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers, HIPAA has placed safeguards to protect patient confidentiality. All healthcare facilities must provide information to the patient and document how they protect the patient’s health information. In the pharmacy, this may include any transmission of prescription data to anyone other than the patient and the healthcare professional, or it may include an area designed for private counseling. Every pharmacy must have a training program in place for its employees with annual renewals. For pharmacy technicians, this means they must not, under penalty of law, reveal any information on any patient outside the pharmacy.

A pharmacy is required by law to maintain the privacy of protected health information (PHI). Personal health information must be protected from unauthorized use and access.  All health professionals are bound by law and ethics not to disclose this information outside the workplace.  To be in compliance, healthcare workers must remove or conceal from view any information that can identify the patient. Patient identifiers are defined as information that could identify the patient. Examples of patient identifiers are listed below.

Patient Identifiers:  name, address and zip code, relatives, employer, date of birth, telephone number, e-mail address, social security number, medical record number, health plan identification number, account number.

In the pharmacy, shredding all patient-related information rather than discarding it in the trash is common practice. Even used prescription vials with patient-labeled information must be discarded appropriately (i.e., black out the patient name with a marking pen or peel the label from the vial and discard). As a technician, be extra vigilant and sensitive to maintaining patient confidentiality. In addition, be sure to understand the policy and procedures of your pharmacy.  Maintaining the privacy and security of health information is an extremely important ethical and legal issue.

Both state and federal law govern patient confidentiality. Generally, where conflict exists, the most stringent law is the one that should be followed. The pharmacy technician should know the laws in the state where he or she is practicing; if the technician moves to another state, then the regulations and laws may change.

In addition to HIPAA regulations, the pharmacy technician should use common sense and be sensitive and respectful of customer privacy in regards to health information. As a pharmacy employee, you are part of the healthcare profession and must adopt a helpful, no-nonsense, professional attitude toward the body and its functions. Responding to an inquiry about such a product with promptness, courtesy, respect, and a certain degree of nonchalance often relieves your customer’s embarrassment and demonstrates your professionalism. Speak in a clear and quite voice, but not so loudly that other customers or employees are privy to your private exchange with the customer.

With a caring attitude and a compassionate spirit, a pharmacy technician can focus on serving the patient in a private and confidential manner.

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