Magazine article Drug Topics

A HIPAA Bust Waiting to Happen

Magazine article Drug Topics

A HIPAA Bust Waiting to Happen

Article excerpt


When I'm out shopping, I'm drawn to other pharmacies like a moth to flame. I'll usually make a beeline to check out my colleagues during their workday, discreetly impersonating a shopper looking through the vitamins or family planning section while keeping the pharmacy under observation. Sometimes I'll pretend I'm on a supersecret spy mission of vital importance to the profession, which I realize may be a sign that I've been in the profession too long.

The last time I went undercover at my local chain drugstore, a simple sign in the patient-counseling area caught my eye. There, hanging right next to the pharmacist working diligently to keep up with the day's prescription load, was a simple set of instructions for the whole world to see.

"Keep your voice down," the sign said. My first thought was how awesome it must be to work in a place that encourages such good customer behavior. Then I realized that the sign mistakenly had been hung backwards; the side encouraging public quiet was actually intended to face the pharmacist while he was counseling.

Then I noticed that this sign seemed to be the only effort this chain had made toward HIPAA compliance. The pharmacy was completely open, in a layout very similar to that of my favorite sandwich shop. While pretending to shop for diabetic test strips, I stood less than 3 feet from the pharmacist and listened to him take 2 prescriptions over the phone. Every word.

The only thing that could have prevented my overhearing someone get an early refill OK for some Xanax from their doctor's office would have been if the pharmacist had used a telegraph. Even then, if I knew Morse code, I might have figured it out. I realized that the people behind the pharmacy counter had been issued orders by the corporate mothership, but from what I saw, they had been given absolutely no tools to carry them out.

Sound familiar?

Most of us practicing pharmacy at the turn of the 21st century face a Catch-22. We have lost control of our profession to the corporations that employ us, yet when it is to the advantage of those corporations, they still pretend that we are individual practitioners.

Who's held to account if a patient isn't counseled where you work? You. …

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