Five HIPAA reminders for health care PR pros

We often have busy days, running from meeting to meeting while squeezing in media interviews and social media posts, and sometimes it’s easy to forget the basics. One of the most important laws we need to adhere to in health care is HIPAA and it’s essential to remember these five tips at all times.

- Underestimate a reporter’s knowledge of HIPAA. We all know the challenges of today’s media landscape, and meeting and developing working relationships with new reporters has become a continuous trend. With that comes our responsibility to review HIPAA guidelines anytime a reporter is doing a health care story. This means requesting tight shots of whatever a photographer is shooting and reminding them they can’t get distinguishable features of those walking throughout your facility. For reporters, it means clearly outlining what your spokesperson will and won’t be able to say. Most veteran journalists are well-versed in covering health care and know the rules, but don’t ever make the mistake of assuming they know what’s allowed and what’s not.

- Don’t forget the background. When you’re setting up an interview that includes video or still shots, remember to review the environment. Even if you’re in an office and aren’t worried about patients wandering by, make sure to clean up papers lying on a desk and clear computer monitors. Our busy spokespeople might be used to reviewing patient information all day long, and it’s our job to remind them to get it out of the way before a reporter shows up.

- Always include a HIPAA reminder in your media prep. Most of the spokespeople I work with have degrees that far outrank mine, but it’s important to always remember your area of expertise. Just because someone is Dr.-Dr. (M.D. and Ph.D.), doesn’t mean she’ll remember she’s on the record with a reporter who isn’t a member of a specific patient’s care team. Take the time during your prep session to remind the spokespeople that unless we have a signed consent form, they’re unable to use real-life examples of patients they treat.

- Watch out for patient “photo bombers.” This always happens when we’re working on photo or video for social media, you get one hundred employees gathered to proudly show off their health care week t-shirts and just as you’re about to hit ‘record,’ a curious patient or visitor walks through the background. The best way to head this off is to have multiple people on the lookout during your shoot, who can kindly ask people to wait a few minutes until the recording is finished before walking through.

- Think ahead. Are you pitching a story about a new piece of imaging equipment? Before you get the pitch out the door, think down the lines of if a reporter bites. You probably have a patient lined up, but do you have permission to use their study? TV photographers will not only want a photo of the new machine, but they’ll want to shoot the high-quality image that comes from it, and you can’t have the tech pull up any random study. Make sure to think ahead and request a dummy study be loaded before you even arrive with the photographer.

Written by

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson has extensive experience in media relations, crisis communication and internal communication. An employee of Red Shoes PR since 2009 and a public relations practitioner for more than a decade, Maria specializes in strategic health care communication. Maria graduated from Marquette University and is on the board of directors for Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley and Fox Cities Community Health Center, and is on the board of trustees for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Green Bay. She also volunteers for St. Therese Church.

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