May 15, 2019
HIPAA violations are a major concern for facilities and hospitals across the country, and violating these regulations put forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leads to expensive fines and settlements. This has made the protection of patient information a primary goal for all facilities, everywhere. Patient information needs to be kept secure and private, which is why there are some concerns with what can be placed on a patient room whiteboard.
The short answer to this is no. Hospital whiteboards, in 99% of cases, do not violate the guidelines set forth by HIPAA. Most hospitals in the United States, along with many outpatient facilities, use whiteboards in their patient rooms, at nursing stations and in many other sections of the hospital.
There is no specific section in HIPAA that refers to content placed on whiteboards. The only place whiteboards are even mentioned are in regards to the HIPAA Privacy Rule Incidental Uses and Disclosures section (read the full context here). The section details how patient information can be incidentally disclosed to another person in any number of ways:
HIPAA alleviates these concerns by stating:
The HIPAA Privacy Rule is not intended to impede these customary and essential communications and practices and, thus, does not require that all risk of incidental use or disclosure be eliminated to satisfy its standards. Rather, the Privacy Rule permits certain incidental uses and disclosures of protected health information to occur when the covered entity has in place reasonable safeguards and minimum necessary policies and procedures to protect an individual's privacy.
In other words, your whiteboard can be HIPAA compliant so long as you don't write everything there is to know about a patient on it and display it prominently for all the world to see. Here are a couple ways you can ensure that you do not even come close to HIPAA violations with custom whiteboards in your facility.
When placing a whiteboard in a patient room, make sure it is in a location that is not easily viewed from the hallway. Keep in mind that only reasonable safeguards need to be in place when considering placement, so you don't have to hide whiteboards behind a curtain or in a closet. Just don't place them on the outside of a patient's room or on the door. The same applies for nursing station boards; try to make sure they are located in an area that is only accessible to staff members.
Once again, information that is incidentally seen on a whiteboard is not necessarily a violation of HIPAA, but you can put extra safeguards in place by limiting the information placed on the board. Consider only using a patient's initials or their first name with their last initial only. Providers should also avoid writing test results and diagnoses on the board. However, medications, allergies and upcoming tests/procedures are all common pieces of information most facilities use on their whiteboards.
* The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Please consult HIPAA or a compliance specialist to learn more about HIPAA compliance.