April 21, 2015 

Hi Jennifer,

Can you help us with an internal debate?  How are we supposed to address patients in the waiting room?  Can we call out their first name or should be use a proper pronoun and us last names?  What is the right thing to do?

Thanks in advance.



Kim, thank you for asking this question, which plagues many of your colleagues.  Of course patients must be notified its time to see the practitioner, but how can you do so without causing alarm of potential exposure.  Well, the Office for Civil Rights (the HIPAA police) explicitly state authorize you to "call out patient names in waiting rooms, so long as the information disclosed is appropriately limited."  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/incidential_uses_and_disclosures/199.html 

OCR explains that the "HIPAA Privacy Rule explicitly permits the incidental disclosures that may result from this practice, for example, when other patients in a waiting room hear the identity of the person whose name is called... However, these incidental disclosures are permitted only when the covered entity has implemented reasonable safeguards and the minimum necessary standard, where appropriate.

In practical terms, there is no reason to utilize an individuals full name, and certainly no reason to speak in the waiting room while walking the patient in or otherwise about why the patient is there, or any results, etc.  I recommend adopting a policy to train front desk staff to use first names only, or last names only, or maybe a combination of first initial and one whole proper name. 

I hope this helps and gives your staff more confidence they are complying. 

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