Q. The volunteer department of a hospice is interested in purchasing magnetic car signs with the message, “I volunteer at X Hospice.” Another idea under consideration is the purchase of magnetic car signs with the logo and volunteer on the sign. Does using the signs create a patient privacy problem? When the volunteer parks outside the house of a patient, it would reveal the patient was receiving hospice services.
A. Yes, using the signs creates a privacy concern, and likely a HIPAA privacy rule violation. The signs would reveal that a resident at the house or apartment where the vehicle is parked has a terminal health condition. This would be considered PHI, even though the signs do not specifically identify the patient’s medical condition. Also, from an ethical perspective, such signs could very well violate the patient’s right to avoid what can be well-meaning public reactions to the news a patient is terminal, which are often unwanted and adversely affect the patient’s right to die with dignity.
Editor's note: Chris Apgar, president of Portland, OR-based Apgar & Associates, LLC, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney regarding legal matters.