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Health privacy gets examined


By Ariel Serafin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 23, 2005
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Officers explore alternatives to keep student records out of public sphere

In light of recent privacy complaints from a group of UA graduate students, a HIPAA official wants students to know about the old and new measures that are being taken to protect privacy at Campus Health Service.

UA Privacy Officer Jeniece Poole said she and her counterparts have many duties they perform to protect patient information at Campus Health, the Arizona Cancer Center and during medical research studies.

Poole and her co-workers conduct audits of these facilities on a regular basis. There are two types of audits Poole conducts to ensure the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations are being followed: evaluations and unannounced visits called "spot checks."

During evaluations, Poole said, she visits an office like Campus Health at a scheduled time to meet and talk with the staff and walk around, making sure private

information and items are locked up.

During "spot checks" she observes activities in the waiting area while disguised as a typical student or patient, Poole said.

"I'll put on my jeans and a T-shirt and pull my hair up on top of my head," Poole said.

Unannounced visits also serve the purpose of ensuring that the behavior Poole observes during evaluations is maintained on a daily basis, answering the question, "Did they put on a show because I was coming in, or is this really the way it's done?" Poole said.

Poole said although she occasionally does observe inappropriate behavior during audits, changes are being made.

One of the more creative concepts Campus Health will put into use is a kiosk-style check-in, where students can type their name and personal information into a computer, rather than saying it out loud to a receptionist.

Pre-business sophomore Colin Krieg said he thinks personal files are safer in a computer than on paper.

Tyler Yamashita, a pre-business sophomore, said he also feels safer knowing his personal files weren't stored the old-fashioned way.

"Paper could get lost and someone could find it, and it could be in the wrong hands," Yamashita said.

The Arizona Cancer Center is also purchasing light-up pagers, similar to those used in restaurants, which will buzz when it is time for a patient's treatment.

Although Poole said she does not know exactly when these systems will be installed, HIPAA officers are constantly searching for ways to protect students' personal information.

"We continue to look at making changes," Poole said.

Poole encourages students who feel their privacy has not been protected to call, e-mail or come talk to her.

The only benefit students will receive by taking legal action is the knowledge that their information is safe, Poole said.

"If we don't know about a privacy breach, we can't do anything about it," Poole said.



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