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Ask the expert: Mandatory flu shots, mask-wearing policies, and HIPAA

Here’s a different take on healthcare worker mandatory flu shot policies requiring either immunization or wearing a mask [1] during patient contact. Whether such a policy would be a HIPAA violation was addressed in HCPro’s Compliance Monitor [2], February 8.

Q: Our healthcare facility is requiring employees to get the flu shot or they will have to wear a mask when within 6 feet of patients. Is this not a violation of employee or patient privacy?

A. The Privacy Rule only protects the privacy of patient, not employees. Requiring non-vaccinated employees to wear a respiratory mask to protect the health of patients does not violate the patient’s privacy and may prevent the spread of infection.

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX answered this question in the February issue of Briefings on HIPAA [3]. Brandt is a nationally recognized expert on patient privacy, information security, and regulatory compliance, and her publications provided some of the basis for HIPAA’s privacy regulations.