Five Privacy Tips for Your Virtual Appointments

January 11, 2021

Stock photo via CanvaThis past year has been unlike anything we in the medical field have ever experienced before. Though many of our practices have had to change in 2020, nothing has been more of an adjustment than the abrupt switch to virtual care. It goes without saying that nothing beats face-to-face patient care, but we have all had to be flexible in how we support our patients.

Many of us are no strangers to phone visits and consultations but the addition of on-camera virtual appointments has left many navigating unfamiliar waters, and unfortunately, most of us haven’t had the luxury of reviewing best practices!

Here are five tips to help with maintaining privacy compliance during virtual visits.

Book Appointments

Just because an appointment is virtual, doesn’t mean a patient shouldn’t have to book an appointment. Keep the same process of booking an appointment as your clinic always has – whether that’s having the patient call in or go online to book. This will allow you to stay organized and to create an appropriate flow in your clinic.

Use Your Reception

Checking in patients is a critical part of an appointment and shouldn’t be skipped just because it’s now virtual. This process isn’t just to inform you that your patient has arrived, it’s also the time when the patient’s identity is verified. Reception should be calling patients at their booked appointment time and completing the necessary privacy steps:

  1. Have the patient spell their name, provide address and/or PHN to verify their identity
  2. Ensure the patient is in a private place to ensure the best confidentiality possible
  3. Obtain verbal approval for having the physician conduct a virtual appointment. (See CPSA’s COVID-19: Virtual Care for more details)

Once these steps have been completed, reception can transfer the patient to you.

Remember, the privacy steps taken, including receiving consent to proceed with a virtual appointment, should be included in the patient’s chart notes.

Use Secure Technology Only

Virtual appointments should never be held on any technology that isn’t properly secured. This means absolutely no FaceTime, texting, email, and no free versions of software like Zoom Basic. Other versions of Zoom, including Zoom for Healthcare licenses are available and provide a safer alternative.

Using these types of technologies are inexpensive and familiar, however they could expose your clinic to significant security breaches. Services like Messenger, FaceTime and email collect, use and disclose the user’s information and will not provide physicians (custodians of health information) with an Information Manager Agreement (IMA) which is needed as required under the Health Information Act (HIA).

If you would like to learn more about available virtual tools, visit the AMA’s Virtual Care webpage.

Mind Your Background

Always be mindful of what’s visible through a screen. You may not notice that there are other patients’ information sitting on your desk or perhaps you are working from home and a personal picture of your family could compromise their anonymity. Keep a clean and professional workspace free of personal effects – yours or of those you care for.

Tip: You can also always apply a virtual background to block out your surroundings. Here’s how for Zoom.

Notice of Collection

A Notice of Collection poster should be a staple in your clinic rooms so why not post one on the wall behind you for virtual appointments? These notices inform patients that their health information is being collected and protected under the Health Information Act (HIA) and ensures them that you are handling it correctly.

Alberta Medical Association Mission: Advocate for and support Alberta physicians. Strengthen their leadership in the provision of sustainable quality care.