Confidentiality: Assessing Patient Information by Using DOB (date of birth)


In today’s society with confidentiality a wide and often difficult issue we often have to be seen to minimise the use of patient information. Simply by repeating a patients name or address often breaks confidentiality. Most of the time this will not cause a problem, but there are ALWAYS the exception.

Ways that confidentiality can be broken can include:

  • Asking a patient for their name or address at the reception desk and being overheard by a 3rd party.
  • Repeating a patients name or address over the telephone and being overheard by a 3rd party.
  • Writing patient information down where a 3rd party can read it.
  • Giving patient information to a 3rd party i.e. husband/wife/mother/father/son/daughter or other family members or friends of the patient without their consent. This also includes outside agencies.

By using the patients date of birth (DOB) you are not giving away any confidential information to anyone listening to your conversation. This can be a good way of dealing with such an issue at a busy reception desk.

By entering the DOB into the computer it will identify if this patient has already been registered. By entering a name onto the computer, which has another way of spelling the name to the one already registered will not identify that this patient is already registered.

When a patient is entered onto the system twice this creates a duplicate patient – and it means that one patient will have two set of “notes” on the computer system. This could lead to serious problems because if the patient is brought up on the system by their name and accordingly to which way the name is spelt important information could be stored on the “other duplicate” set of notes. This could be blood results, letters from the hospital etc.

Duplicate patients are often created when a patient is registered at the practice before then moved away and returned to the area and wanting to re register at the practice again. If DOB was entered it would straight away identify that the patient has already been a patient and their records can be “re-opened”. If the name is entered and their original name was entered by My John David Smith and when they came to re-register and they put My John Smith this may not identify that he had been registered in the past.
This would result in them being registered again thus creating a duplicate of notes.

Below are some examples of how ONE patient could be entered into the computer system in more than one way:

  1. Carol Ann Linch          DOB 29.5.86
  2. Carol Anne Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  3. Carole Ann Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  4. Carol Anne Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  5. Carol Ann Lynch         DOB 29.5.86
  6. Carol Anne Lynch       DOB 29.5.86
  7. Carol Ann Lynch         DOB 29.5.86
  8. Carol Anne Lynch       DOB 29.5.86
  9. Carol Lynch                  DOB 29.5.86
  10. Carole Lynch                DOB 29.5.86

And so on and on…………………………

10 Ways that a patients name could be entered – BUT ONLY ONE DATE OF BIRTH

Putting in the wrong spelling will create a problem, the computer will be unable to find the patient or worse still bring up the wrong patient. Think of a surgery they could have 10,000 patients or even a hospital with thousands on their computer system – just think how many might share the same name or have similar names – but how many would share the same DOB and the same name?

By asking the patient for their DOB you can bring the patients details up straight away. If by chance there is more than one patient with the same DOB – then ask the patient to confirm their address – by asking the patient especially over the telephone you are not divulging any information – it is a bit different if they are at the front desk – so remember if you are asking them to be discreet.

Often you will have a father and son or mother and daughter with the same first name as well as their surname, this in the past has caused the wrong information to be used – for example:

  • Mr John Smith    DOB      26.5.57    (father)
  • Mr John Smith    DOB      18.8.81    (son)

Simple spelt names like Smith can be spelt differently i.e. Smyth, Smith. Green, can also be spelt as Greene, and there are many other names that can sound the same but be spelt differently.

By entered the DOB you would have brought up the correct patient.

By entering DOB when scanning will also minimise errors, in the past patient information has been scanned into the wrong patients notes.

If you do enter information onto the computer ALWAY check you have the correct spelling – please do not assume you have it right. If in doubt always ask for the DOB.

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Patient Confidentiality – When Someone Claims To Be The Patient


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We have all been shocked by the sad news of the nurse Jacintha Saldanha in London who sadly took her life after a hoax call.

Many Receptionists and Nurses have no doubt thought of the sad incident and run through their mind how they would have dealt with such a call. I know I have.

We all know the importance of patient confidentiality – it is vital that patient information is protected and only shared with those on a need to know basis.

But, many of you reading this will think back to an incident whereby it has been difficult to deal with such a call – but it is how you deal with it that is the most important – and more importantly is how you have the knowledge and ability to deal with such calls. This comes with experience, training and support from the organisation that you work with.

Did Jacintha have that support and training? I am not here to judge or comment on the incident but I can share with you how as a receptionist a call that I dealt with. When I become a manager I took this experience on with me and used it in the training of all new receptionists.

The story I am about to tell is similar in as much as the caller was pretending to be someone they were not and trying to obtain patient information from the surgery.

True Story:

One morning I was on took a call. The caller asked if her daughters’ pregnancy results had come back. I explained that due to patient confidentiality I was unable to give her the results as she was not the patient.  She was not very happy about this – she insisted that her daughter had asked her to call; she explained that her daughter was in college and couldn’t phone.

I suggested to the caller that she ask her daughter to call in her lunch break – or perhaps when she finished college as we were open until 7.00 pm. She was having none of it – she had every excuse to why her daughter couldnt phone the surgery herself. She then started getting aggressive  – I again said that I was unable to give her any information regarding her daughter.

She gave some more abuse and hung up.

Five minutes later I answered the telephone again – the same woman this time claiming she WAS the patient. (I suspect she thought she would have got another receptionist answering the phone the second time but she got me again)

I asked this caller if in fact it was the same person that I had spoken to only five minutes ago – she denied that she had phoned before  and insisted she was the patient and asked for her results again. 

So…………….as a receptionist what would you have done in this situation?

I had to think quickly – this caller was claiming she was the patient – I had my doubts that she was the patient.  Had another receptionist have taken the call she would have presumed that she was the patient and may have given out the results.

So I asked the caller her DOB which she was able to tell me (after all if I was correct she was the mother of the patient)

I asked the caller to confirm when she had brought the test in – this time she couldn’t answer my question – she tried to say that she wasn’t too sure but thought it was about 3/4 days previous. (Checking the patients’ records she in fact had brought the test in 2 days previous)

I kept the call going in a professional way and said I could not find a record of the results (although they were there in front of me) and asked if I could have her mobile telephone number and I would call her back once I had called the hospital for the results.

Guess what – she couldn’t give me “her” number. While we all usually know our own mobile telephone numbers we don’t usually know others off the top of our heads.

The caller again started to get aggressive and insisted that she would phone me back when I had spoken to the hospital. At this point I agreed that she would call me back in 20 minutes and gave her my name. I doubted that she was going to do this.

She never did call back.

I put an entry into the receptionists’ message book of the incident to warn them in case this woman called back again.

So, what if something similar were to happen a few questions that you could ask are:

  • Confirm date of birth
  • When did the patient last come into the surgery?
  • What Doctor/Nurse did they see?
  • What time was their appointment?
  • Tell them you will call them back – if they are not the patient they usually are unable to give you their number off the top of their head.

If you are speaking to the patient I am sure they would only be too pleased that you are taking patient confidentiality seriously and will not mind answering any of your questions.

And most important if you are in ANY doubts do not give out any information – ask the caller their telephone number and tell them you will get back to them. When you finish the call speak to your team leader or manager and seek advice.

As a manager I would always tell my team as long as they took every possible step towards maintaining patient confidentiality and in the event that patient confidentiality was broken I would support them 100%.

Confidentiality: Assessing Patient Information by Using DOB (date of birth)


In today’s society with confidentiality a wide and often difficult issue we often have to be seen to minimise the use of patient information. Simply by repeating a patients name or address often breaks confidentiality. Most of the time this will not cause a problem, but there are ALWAYS the exception.

Ways that confidentiality can be broken can include:

  • Asking a patient for their name or address at the reception desk and being overheard by a 3rd party.
  • Repeating a patients name or address over the telephone and being overheard by a 3rd party.
  • Writing patient information down where a 3rd party can read it.
  • Giving patient information to a 3rd party i.e. husband/wife/mother/father/son/daughter or other family members or friends of the patient without their consent. This also includes outside agencies.

By using the patients date of birth (DOB) you are not giving away any confidential information to anyone listening to your conversation. This can be a good way of dealing with such an issue at a busy reception desk.

By entering the DOB into the computer it will identify if this patient has already been registered. By entering a name onto the computer, which has another way of spelling the name to the one already registered will not identify that this patient is already registered.

When a patient is entered onto the system twice this creates a duplicate patient – and it means that one patient will have two set of “notes” on the computer system. This could lead to serious problems because if the patient is brought up on the system by their name and accordingly to which way the name is spelt important information could be stored on the “other duplicate” set of notes. This could be blood results, letters from the hospital etc.

Duplicate patients are often created when a patient is registered at the practice before then moved away and returned to the area and wanting to re register at the practice again. If DOB was entered it would straight away identify that the patient has already been a patient and their records can be “re-opened”. If the name is entered and their original name was entered by My John David Smith and when they came to re-register and they put My John Smith this may not identify that he had been registered in the past.
This would result in them being registered again thus creating a duplicate of notes.

Below are some examples of how ONE patient could be entered into the computer system in more than one way:

  1. Carol Ann Linch          DOB 29.5.86
  2. Carol Anne Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  3. Carole Ann Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  4. Carol Anne Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  5. Carol Ann Lynch         DOB 29.5.86
  6. Carol Anne Lynch       DOB 29.5.86
  7. Carol Ann Lynch         DOB 29.5.86
  8. Carol Anne Lynch       DOB 29.5.86
  9. Carol Lynch                  DOB 29.5.86
  10. Carole Lynch                DOB 29.5.86

And so on and on…………………………

10 Ways that a patients name could be entered – BUT ONLY ONE DATE OF BIRTH

Putting in the wrong spelling will create a problem, the computer will be unable to find the patient or worse still bring up the wrong patient. Think of a surgery they could have 10,000 patients or even a hospital with thousands on their computer system – just think how many might share the same name or have similar names – but how many would share the same DOB and the same name?

By asking the patient for their DOB you can bring the patients details up straight away. If by chance there is more than one patient with the same DOB – then ask the patient to confirm their address – by asking the patient especially over the telephone you are not divulging any information – it is a bit different if they are at the front desk – so remember if you are asking them to be discreet.

Often you will have a father and son or mother and daughter with the same first name as well as their surname, this in the past has caused the wrong information to be used – for example:

  • Mr John Smith    DOB      26.5.57    (father)
  • Mr John Smith    DOB      18.8.81    (son)

Simple spelt names like Smith can be spelt differently i.e. Smyth, Smith. Green, can also be spelt as Greene, and there are many other names that can sound the same but be spelt differently.

By entered the DOB you would have brought up the correct patient.

By entering DOB when scanning will also minimise errors, in the past patient information has been scanned into the wrong patients notes.

If you do enter information onto the computer ALWAY check you have the correct spelling – please do not assume you have it right. If in doubt always ask for the DOB.