When it comes to providing excellent behavioral healthcare, privacy is non-negotiable. However, establishing a truly private therapy environment includes many small details that can be overlooked. Here are the key elements and best practices that therapists should include in their practices.
Following HIPAA Requirements
Following federal and state guidelines should be your highest privacy priority, particularly when it comes to the Health Insurance Portability & Accessibility Act (HIPAA). The HIPAA Privacy Rule is a set of national standards intended to protect individuals’ health data.
Part of this rule includes maintaining written policies and procedures, known as a “privacy manual.” This manual governs how your practice protects client health information. It should include a records release form, details on how you use and disclose protected client information, how you secure that information, and how you will notify clients in case of a data breach.
Other HIPAA rules that therapists must follow include:
- Keeping a secure, offsite backup of all electronic protected health data (check out this PDF for specifics)
- Maintaining a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with any business partners that handle your client data
- Using encrypted methods to share client health data (regular emails will not do)
Violations of HIPAA rules could include termination, professional sanctions, and even criminal charges, so adherence is crucial for your practice!
Other Best Practices for Privacy
Besides HIPAA, there are numerous best practices for privacy that behavioral health providers should follow.
- Practice informed consent, which involves sharing enough information with your client (or potential client) so that he or she can make an informed decision about treatment. Clients should be able to ask questions about a proposed treatment, as well as your expertise, credentials, and experience. You can include information about informed consent in your practice’s privacy manual.
- Protecting confidential client information applies to group therapy as well as individual therapy.
- If discussing a particular client within the context of research, do not disclose more than you need to, and never use your client’s real name.
- If you record your client sessions (and only with your client’s consent), store the recordings securely, and erase or destroy them when they are no longer needed.
- Keep your work computer and other electronic devices locked with a secure passcode.
Setting Up Your Office for Privacy
Whether you provide in-person or remote counseling, it is important to conduct your sessions in a private space.
- Use secure telehealth software that is HIPAA-compliant.
- Inform clients if a communications method is not secure (for example, a telephone conversation), and allow your client to opt-out if desired.
- Make sure conversations cannot be heard clearly outside your therapy room.
- Whenever possible, provide private entrances and exits for in-person sessions.
These best practices also apply to any practice marketing you may do. For example, if you share any client testimonials or reviews (again, only with their permission), never use a client’s full name.
Maintaining privacy in your therapy practice can be daunting, with big risks for getting it wrong. BestNotes EHR software, designed specifically for behavioral health providers, is HIPAA-compliant and available for in-person and telehealth providers. Our solutions take some of the guesswork out of privacy compliance, so you can focus on your clients and less on admin! To learn more about how BestNotes works, request a free demo today.