Cell Phone Cameras in Healthcare Facilities: A Time to Refocus
For years, healthcare facilities were cell phone free zones because of concerns about interference with pacemakers and other devices. Several studies refuted those assumptions, however, and many facilities changed their policies.
Today, there is a new concern: patient privacy. Healthcare facilities have a duty under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to protect confidential patient information. HIPAA defines protected health information (PHI) as “individually identifiable health information” that is: (1) transmitted by electronic media; (2) maintained in any medium described in the definition of electronic media; or (3) transmitted or maintained in any other form of medium. Whether HIPAA governs a photograph someone takes in a healthcare facility depends on who took the picture, the purpose behind the photograph, and to whom and how it gets transmitted. That all said, healthcare facilities risk running afoul of HIPAA, as well as state statutes and common law privacy rights when everyone in the facility has a camera, embedded in their phone, at the ready.
In simple words, cell phones would be banned again. However, given the lack of evidence that cell phones harm patients directly, no ban is likely in the future. Hospitals have protocols in place for employees, vendors, and others to protect their patients’ privacy rights as well as to protect themselves against claims. Expect to see those protocols in other healthcare facilities in the future.