Medical Facility Security: Balancing Safety and Privacy

I am not a layer or legal expert. The information presented below is not legal advice. When in doubt, consult your legal team and always apply common sense! Never record audio, in some states this violates wire-tapping laws and can land you in big trouble, with both the plaintiff’s lawyer and the prosecutor’s office.

Recently I was talking with a very good friend who works in the medical field. I brought up the subject of security in the medical work place. I’m not just talking about your local doctor or dentist office; although they are also affected by everything that followings to some extent. I was thinking more about walk-in clinics, same day surgery facilities, out patient procedure facilities and even local practitioners. Places that have high patient volume. large staffs with potential high turn-over, high priced and delicately calibrated equipment, controlled substances and most importantly- patient records.

I quickly learned after mentioning this subject to a few other acquaintances that opinions and feelings about security in the medical work place run from freezing to boiling over. Hardly anyone wanted to be on the fence.

By now you should know that I wasn’t simply asking these friends if they thought a doctor could benefit from a simple intrusion alarm system (they can), I wanted to know where they would draw the line on things like; cameras in the exam and operating rooms, waiting areas, record storage; access controlled doors to record rooms, drug storage areas, drug sample (from pharmacy reps) closets, break rooms, admin areas; and of course intrusion alarm systems that even when not armed (like at night) can track doors opening, what time the staff came in and what time they left after close of business.

The most interesting thing I found, was that most people thought that any kind of surveillance was forbidden by law. Not correct. I kept hear the term HIPAA over and over. So I looked into it. More on that later.

The second most interesting thing I learned was that people reacted very differently to my ideas depending on the way it was presented to them. People who were given the impression that George Orwell was invading the sanctity of the exam room reacted most negatively (open hostility). People who were gently introduced to the idea of a management and safety system were much more likely to react positively (even if only tentatively).

There are many good, sound and legal reasons why a medical facility would want security systems. Some clinics and facilities participate in drug trials with pharmaceutical companies. Often the terms of the trial contract mandate security features in place that allow for monitoring of samples, records and compliance with the trial ‘s strict protocols.

Intrusion Alarms-

  • Protect the premise from burglary, theft and vandalism during closed hours
  • Instill accountability, tracking office openings and closings
  • Deter would be thieves- things looked secured
  • Instill a sense of workplace pride- where you work is important enough to be protected

Closed Circuit TV (CCTV)-

  • Cameras can be just about anywhere except-
  • Cameras must not be placed anywhere that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, exam rooms, changing rooms, bathrooms, procedure rooms, directly viewing open patient records or information, looking at desktops where patient information is handled
  • Cameras can watch hallways to see who went where when and took what equipment, watch over the record storage areas and drug storage areas.
  • Cameras are a proven deterrent to crimes of all types, from white collar to grey to blue
  • Cameras should not be hidden. They should be in plain view of all involved

Card Access Control for doors-

  • Possibly the most important security investment a facility can make
  • Secures storage areas containing drugs, equipment, samples and records
  • Keeps the public out of dangerous or secure areas
  • Creates an audit trail for authorizing and licensing agencies to examine if an incident ever occurs.

The website for U.S Department of Health & Human Services has a lot of information about what is not allowed to happen in medical facilities. No where does it state that security systems of various types are forbidden. In some cases they are mandatory.

What ever the reason, security systems are a part of modern living. Again use common sense and consult your lawyer.

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