Saturday, October 03, 2009

Confidentiality

Amongst some of the social work blogs I follow, there's been an interesting discussion regarding confidentiality and blogging. Eyes Opened Wider lays out how seriously she strives to protect identities and maintain confidentiality. I added my two cents in the comments section but thought it might be worthwhile to raise this issue here. When I first started my blog, it was meant to be a place for friends and family to read about both my personal and professional experiences. At times I wrote more about my travels and the White Sox than I wrote about work. However, in the past year this blog has developed into a professional resource-only, in response to increased traffic. It's exciting to have a bigger readership but it also means I need to double my efforts to protect my patients' identities. I've started reviewing old posts and revising here and there just to be sure. I've also taken out some personal musings that might reveal clues to where I work. I've toyed with the idea of publishing my name and workplace but I'm not ready for that yet- or maybe I just don't want to involve HR!

In any case, here are some of the ways I try to maintain confidentiality:
1. Under my blog title, it states that patient names and identifying information has been changed. This is in accordance with the great and mighty HIPAA.
2. Patient names on this blog are never close to their actual names, which is sometimes a shame because I could never make them up. Sometimes I use TV or Movie characters, random initials, or a random name.
3. I vary ages, sometimes accurate or sometimes a general "in their 70s." It depends on why I'm sharing the story.
4. I usually give an accurate diagnosis unless the diagnosis has no bearing on the story.
5. I struggle with how much to share when it comes to a patient's background or family dynamics. I find those aspects to be so compelling that I want to tell it all but I have become better over the years at picking and choosing what to share. If a patient's story is one of a kind, then I tend to change all the other information.
6. When pictures are included (i.e. Bucket List patient), permission is always requested first.

Like the other social work bloggers, I never share a story that I did not experience myself. I originally thought this blog would be a good outlet for me to process the hospice and bereavement worlds but it has grown in to something more. I am honored that someone would want to read this blog and that my clumsy words might be of use to them. I appreciate all your feedback and insights. If you ever think I am not safeguarding my patients and their families, please let me know! We could all use a good reminder once in awhile.

Any suggestions or pointers for how you protect patient identities while blogging?

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