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HIPAA Speech Privacy Acoustics

by Acoustics By Design on May 3, 2012

image of HIPAA speech privacy acousticsStanding atop my soapbox and surveying the healthcare land as we know it, I can declare at the top of my lungs, “I have a right to be heard… er, NOT HEARD… wait, wait… I have a right that a reasonable effort has been made to ensure that I won’t be heard!” I apologize for the confusion, and if you bear with me, I’ll show you why it is important to note that my awkward dialog has some relevance here.

My topic today is patient privacy rights granted under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This act was passed in 1996 with the major goal of protecting your privacy when dealing with your personal health. It has lots and lots of important legal terminology that deals specifically with how a healthcare provider should take in information and the most appropriate ways it should deal with the information once it has acquired it. It says an awful lot about printed documents and records but very little about speech privacy. How is the patient protected when they sit on the exam table and tell their doctor very personal information?

The basic gist here is just what my little intro implies… HIPAA says that patients have a right to medical privacy, including aural privacy, and that healthcare providers need to make an effort to protect aural privacy. However, HIPAA does not go into very much detail about how this should be accomplished. I’m glad that at a minimum this was included in the act; however, it falls short on details regarding how to ensure aural privacy is protected. Interpretation is now something that regularly is played out in courtrooms all across America.

Of course I’m oversimplifying to make an extreme point, but a healthcare provider could argue that by not performing exams in the waiting room they have successfully made a reasonable effort to protect their patients’ speech privacy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve sat in a lot of exam rooms where I can clearly hear what is said on the other side of the wall, and I’ve had that feeling that we might as well do the exam in the waiting room.

The good news is that there is a group out there that not only addresses issues such as speech privacy but also all kinds of issues in relation to healthcare facilities. This group is known as the Facilities Guidelines Institute or FGI (http://www.fgiguidelines.org/). Their mission statement is: “To promote the process of producing consensus-based guidelines and publications, advised by research, to advance quality healthcare.” This group has tackled the issues of speech privacy in healthcare and now includes extensive design guidelines to ensure that your new or remodeled healthcare facility is protecting your patients’ speech privacy. The FGI has relied heavily on professionals in our industry (including contributions from our firm) to comment specifically on what it takes to meet the intent of HIPAA.

At Acoustics By Design, not only have we participated in the discussion of what it takes to protect patients’ privacy, but we have gone that extra mile on several projects, assisting in the design and validating that patients’ aural privacy rights are protected. By choosing a qualified acoustical consulting firm to assist in the design of your healthcare facility your patients can proudly declare “My right not to be heard is protected!”

Acoustics By Design

Acoustics By Design

Acoustics By Design consultants provide acoustical consulting services to architects, engineers, facility directors, municipalities, and building owners. Our team includes acoustical consultants, acoustical engineers, noise consultants, and vibration consultants. Our firm also includes an integrated team of audio-visual consultants who design audio, video, theatrical lighting, and technical systems and integrate them with the native acoustical environment.

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