Confidentiality and Privacy Breaches in a University Hospital Emergency Department
Mlinek, Edward J.
Academic Emergency Medicine. 1997 Dec; 4(12): 1142-1146.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the frequency of visual and auditory confidentiality and privacy breaches in a university ED. METHODS: A prospective, observational study of medical personnel behavior was performed using participant and direct observation techniques. Observations were made in a university tertiary referral and trauma center emergency facility. Observers recorded auditory and visual confidentiality and privacy breaches in various patient care areas during 1-hour periods. Information collected included patient name or room number, complaint/diagnosis, diagnostic tests, past medical history, and personal information. It was then determined whether a clear identification of the patient's name or face and/or an association to his or her clinical course could be made. RESULTS: All members of the health care team committed confidentiality and privacy breaches. Frequency of breaches was dependent on room location and design. Breaches in the triage/waiting area occurred for less than 53% of the patients. Breaches near the physician/nursing station ranged from 3 to 24 per hour and 1.5 to 3.4 per patient hour. Other inappropriate comments also were noted. One hundred consecutive patients and family members were interviewed at ED release, with only 2/100 having noticed the status board, although neither could recall any specific details. CONCLUSION: Confidentiality and privacy breaches occur in a university ED by all members of the health care team. The ED architecture and floor plan affect patient confidentiality and privacy.
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