How to Remain HIPAA-Compliant While on a Podcast
In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The law helps to decrease healthcare fraud, mandate standards for electronic billing throughout the industry, and protect confidential information.
That last point is of particular importance. It prohibits healthcare professionals from talking about anyone they may have seen to friends, family members, and, most importantly, business entities.
In our ever-changing world, podcasts have taken on a new role. Many people acquire valuable information by listening to their favorite podcasts, and today, there are numerous healthcare-related shows.
Shows like TED Talks Health and This Won't Hurt a Bit keep listeners informed about everything in the healthcare industry, from changes to insurance to the latest COVID updates.
Many of these shows regularly feature healthcare professionals, and if you're in the health industry, you might get approached for an interview. And while it's exciting to get the opportunity to share your knowledge, it's important to make sure you don't run afoul of HIPAA in your interview. Here are some key things to remember so you don't violate a patient's privacy!
Don't say anything about specific patients
One reason you may want to go on a podcast is that you have a lot of great stories of patients you've treated. If the podcast you want to get on has a more humorous vibe, then you may have some funny stories of people who have come in with innocuous, silly injuries.
But no matter the context, be mindful of how precisely you present your stories. You need to apply a similar filter so you don't give away too many details, the same way your healthcare facility has a VPN to protect people's information.
This means you shouldn't just say the name of the patient during the podcast. Also, try to be wary of how you describe any specific stories. If you give away too many details, listeners could possibly figure out the patient's identity.
One way to get around this is to avoid singular stories altogether and instead focus on general trends. For example, instead of getting into the specifics of a patient's story, you could say, "We see an influx of people admitted to our hospital due to COVID-19 after the parade two weeks ago," or discuss how 23% of U.S. medical bills are past due.
It can also help to write a script before going on a podcast. A word-for-word script or a detailed outline help you know which topics to stick with and not go off-topic. With a script, you won't accidentally talk about matters you shouldn't discuss because you've already thought about what you need to bring up.
It's best to have measures in place to prevent anyone from getting access to confidential information, and these precautions are even more important if you supervise other individuals who may end up on podcasts in the future.
Train employees on HIPAA privacy
Managers and supervisors need to train their subordinates on several tasks that weren't even issues decades ago. For instance, teaching healthcare workers how to spot social media scams, such as clicking on products that seem "too good to be true," is critical in ensuring no crucial data is lost.
Similarly, you need to train all of your employees to understand policies under HIPAA. The United States Department of Health and Human Services offers guidelines you can distribute to employees so that everyone remains on the same page.
In general, it's a good idea to have such guidelines in place even if you're not overly concerned about anyone ending up on a podcast. Even low-level employees may not see the harm in discussing a sensitive matter over social media. An example of this occurred in August of 2019 when a hospital worker posted a photo of a baby without getting consent.
If your facility currently has HIPAA guidelines, it distributes to new employees; then, it's a good idea to review it to make sure there are rules about new technologies. You can include new clauses to discuss how workers should discuss their jobs on social media and podcasts.
Go over with the hosts what you want to discuss
Approximately 87 percent of businesses, including those in the healthcare industry, rely on videos as marketing tools. Many institutions have realized new ways to market their services, including "viral" opportunities, such as a great video or a guest spot on a podcast.
While you can control what happens in your facility's video, you don't always have that same level of control on a podcast. Perhaps the host will try to steer you in another direction or want more details about a specific case.
Before you go on a podcast, tell the hosts what you can and cannot discuss. Podcast hosts often learn to listen actively to guest's stories and come up with follow-up questions on the spot.
As a result, the host might ask you a question that wasn't pre-approved ahead of time because the host came up with it in a moment of inspiration. Even with a script or notes, you may not know how to answer that without violating HIPAA. If you let the hosts know about HIPAA ahead of time, then they'll understand if you say on the podcast, "I'm sorry; I'm afraid I can't answer that."
At the end of the day, if you're afraid of violating HIPAA, it might be best to decline the invite entirely. Your career is worth more than one episode of a podcast, and most hosts will understand your decision.
Stay on the right side of HIPAA
Violating HIPAA can result in jail time, massive fines, and even the loss of your medical license. You may think of a funny anecdote to tell on a podcast, but by and large, you want to avoid giving too many details, or else you'll find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
HIPAA exists for a reason: to protect patients' privacy. Just because something is engaging, funny, or even helpful to listeners doesn't mean it's safe to share. And if you still find yourself wondering whether a specific story is safe to tell, ask yourself whether you'd share the information on a Facebook post. If you wouldn't say something on Facebook, you shouldn't share it on a podcast!
Nahla Davies is a software developer, programmer, and technical copywriter specializing in digital compliance and helping businesses reach their goals.