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HIPAA Q&A: Voicemail messages

Q. May ambulatory surgery center (ASC) staff members leave preoperative messages on patients’ voice mail or answering machines that include:

Messages neither identify the procedure nor provide other information about the patient. I believe this practice is acceptable unless patients have specifically requested that we not do this (e.g., cosmetic cases).

What information concerning a scheduled procedure (e.g., arrival time, medication reminder, what to bring) may we leave on a patient’s voicemail or answering machine? What information may we leave in a post-procedure follow-up message?

A. You are correct. The practice you describe is acceptable because the information in the message is limited to the minimum necessary. Voicemail messages left for patients should not reveal anything about the patient’s diagnosis or surgical procedure. They may convey practical information, such as expected arrival time and medications.

Follow-up messages should be general, such as, “Mr. Smith, this is Sally at XYZ Surgery Center. I wanted to see how you’re doing after your procedure. Please call me back at 999-9999.”

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, a nationally recognized expert on patient privacy, information security, and regulatory compliance, answered this question. Brandt is associate executive director of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX. Some of her publications were used as a basis for HIPAA privacy regulations. Advice given is general. Readers should consult professional counsel for specific legal, ethical, or clinical questions.