Guest Columns

Communicating with families while respecting resident privacy

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Betty Norman
Betty Norman

In this day and age of constantly evolving technology, everyone seems to have a cell phone in their hand at all times. People want to be constantly updated on the world around them. Accessing the knowledge of a loved one's status is no exception. Family members often have high expectations, and they want an immediate response to their calls and questions. 

However, if staff members are not aware of the proper guidelines on what information can and cannot be shared, there could easily be a breach of that resident's privacy.

An important reference to consider is what the HIPAA Privacy Rule allows concerning information disclosure to the resident's family and friends. (See HIPAA Privacy Rule, 45 CFR 164.510.) As part of your organization's training for staff on HIPAA security issues, there should be a discussion about what is acceptable to disclose and what is not. A written policy should also establish guidelines for sharing information with family and friends.

According to Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Conditions of Participation, the resident has the right to identify the individual(s) they want to have involved in their plan of care, and providers should welcome their involvement. The resident also has the right to reasonable access to email and video communication.

Has your organization considered the availability of video software such as Skype, or handled a request to place a “nanny cam” in the resident's room? Does your staff understand how these devices could potentially impose a privacy risk?

From a risk management perspective, here are some important factors to consider:

  • Develop written policies/procedure related to communication with resident family and friends.
  • Identify acceptable methods of communication and frequency.
  • Assure that communications to the family regarding resident incidents/injuries or a deterioration in the resident's condition are documented in the patient's record.
  • Assure that there is a method for reporting and documenting both compliments and complaints related to resident care.
It is important to remember that family members and close friends can be a valuable resource for information on a resident's life, values, preferences and social/health history. There is a genuine need for an ongoing exchange of information. Open communication benefits everyone, and is a solid risk management approach as well. Families with a positive relationship with the care provider are much less likely to pursue litigation.

Betty Norman is the Director of Risk Control Services for Glatfelter Healthcare Practice, an insurance program manager.



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Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.