Personal cell phone use during the work day is frustrating for employers from many different industries. It cuts down on employee productivity, leading to distracted employees who don’t have 100% of their attention on what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s also disrespectful: no one wants to be cared for by an individual who can’t take their eyes off of their phone. In medical practices, however, cell phones create even more of a problem. Since today’s smart phones are also cameras, video cameras, and tape recorders, they can lead to HIPAA violations in the blink of an eye. That means that every practice, from the small practice with a handful of technicians and a single front desk employee to handle calls and patients to the large multi-specialty practice with dozens of doctors and a bustling staff, needs to have a strong cell phone policy in place.
Patient Eyes and Cell Phones
There’s one line that every practice should include in their cell phone policy: employees should never use cell phones in front of patients. It creates an unprofessional air, leads to distraction from patient care, and makes many patients uncomfortable as they wonder exactly what’s happening behind that phone. While many facets of your cell phone policy are up to you, in order to provide quality patient care, you need to ensure that phones aren’t in use around any patient at any time.
Designate Spaces and Times
Ideally, your cell phone policy shouldn’t just be about the times when cell phones can’t be used. Instead, designate specific places and times where it’s appropriate for employees to use their phones. You might, for example, designate a specific area open for technicians to duck into when they aren’t busy to answer a quick text. Other practices may benefit from allowing cell phone use in a break room or in other areas where patients are not allowed. Keep in mind that your employees have the right to use their cell phones on their breaks as long as they aren’t interfering with patient care or rights.
Refresher Courses Matter
When was the last time you discussed the cell phone policy with your technicians and the other employees who keep your practice running smoothly? If you can’t come up with the answer quickly and it hasn’t been in the last year, it’s time to talk about it again! Your conversation should include:
- When cell phone use is permitted
- Where cell phone use is permitted
- What types of behavior are not considered appropriate
- Maintaining privacy concerning confidential patient data–that is, what information should never be sent via text or shared to social media pages
- Reminders that photos that include patients should not be taken and certainly shouldn’t be shared
- Information about how mobile devices should be secured, especially if they are ever used to access patient data for any reason
By reviewing this information annually at a staff meeting (do not forget to document the training!), you ensure that patient data stays confidential. From their pictures to their health information, your patients deserve privacy. Failure to prevent a breach in your office’s security leaves you in violation of HIPAA, making it well worth the time and effort to make sure every employee, from the physician to the office staff, understands the cell phone policy.
Developing Your Cell Phone Policy
Your practice’s cell phone policy will depend on a number of factors, many of which are unique to your particular practice. As you’re developing your policy, ask yourself several key questions.
- How responsible are my existing employees? Do they already practice safe and responsible cell phone use, or do they need more rigid guidelines?
- Are there times when it might be necessary for cell phone policies to be more lax? During the summer months, for example, many parents leave older children at home alone. Developing your cell phone policy to allow for the need to stay in contact with those children will lead to happier, more focused employees.
- How busy is your practice? If you have a large amount of daily patient traffic, you might struggle to keep up with appropriate patient care if technicians and office staff are on their cell phones frequently. Some offices may permit employees to step into another room to briefly answer a text, while others may require that cell phones remain away from the employee unless they’re on a break.
- How is your office laid out? Are there areas that are inaccessible to patients or where your employees won’t be interfering with patient care if they step aside for a few minutes to answer a text?
- Have you covered every aspect of possible cell phone use with your policy? This doesn’t just include texting or answering phone calls in the office, but extends to cameras, social media use, and even apps that might not be compatible with HIPAA accountability. Practice owners and management staff must always remain aware of the fact that HIPAA applies to any mobile device that receives, transmits, or stores PHI.
It’s critical that you develop your own cell phone policy rather than borrowing one from another practice, especially if you’re pulling one off the internet. Instead, take the time to come up with your own cell phone policy to answer the specific needs of your office. If you do borrow a cell phone policy template, use it as a guide while adding information specific to the needs of your practice.
Developing a strong office cell phone policy protects you, your employees, and your patients. It helps avoid potential privacy breaches, removes one potential distraction from employees’ hands, and improves the quality of patient care. Your focus is on ensuring that your patients get the best care possible. Developing a strong cell phone policy is one step in that process. Want to learn more? Contact us today.