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How to Improve Client Confidentiality in Your Private Practice

Improve Client Confidentiality in Your Practice

Is your private practice private? Can your clients feel safe in your office? As a mental health practitioner, you’re tasked with protecting your clients’ confidentiality, and that can be daunting. The following tips will help you improve privacy for your clients in your office setting.

Be Upfront With Your Privacy Policy

Start things off by being completely transparent with your privacy policy. As a mental health professional, you abide by a code of ethics, but you’re also legally obligated to uphold certain mandates. It’s important that your clients know your privacy policy—including what information will be kept private when information can be shared, and with whom. In your office, display your privacy policy for all to see. Some therapists even choose to frame their privacy policy and hang it on the wall or place it on their desk. When placed in a prominent location, your privacy policy will be unavoidable, and that’s a good thing. In addition to displaying your privacy policy, also take the time to go over it personally with your clients during their initial visit. This can establish a baseline of trust between you and your client. It will also give your client an opportunity to get clarity on any areas of your privacy policy that may be unclear to them. Be sure to explain that there may be times when you are required (by law) to share information without the client’s consent and give clear examples of when this would occur (if you believe the client will harm himself or others, if there is ongoing abuse to the client or others, or if you are ordered by the court to turn over information). Your clients need to understand that as a mandated reporter, it’s not up to your discretion on when to disclose this information. By opening dialogue in the beginning, your clients will be aware of what you can and cannot do. Also, consider including other practical, good-to-know information in your privacy policy, such as: How you keep your records:
  • Where do you keep your records?
  • Who has access to your records?
  • How are your records secured?
  • How many years will your records stay on file?
When you share client information with others:
  • Do you need to share information with other care providers?
  • When do you share and under what circumstances?
  • Do you ask clients for their permission each time?
While you may not want to overwhelm your clients during their first meeting with all of this information, just go over the big ideas during your initial introduction and then ensure that your privacy policy is always (and easily) accessible. During the intake process, you’ll likely include your privacy policy along with authorization and release forms, but don’t forget to make these same documents available on your website and in your office reception area.

Practice Privacy

Now, let’s talk about how customer service affects client confidentiality. From the moment the client steps into your office until the moment the client leaves, you must protect the client’s privacy. Here’s how you can ensure client privacy throughout your office space:

Reception & Waiting Area

  • When you meet a client in the reception area, don’t greet the client by name.
  • Don’t ask the client to verbally confirm why they’re meeting with you.
  • Don’t ask your clients to settle an unpaid or past-due bill in the reception area. This should be handled in a non-public space.

In Your Office

  • Don’t display another client’s private records on your desk for others—such as clients and staff—to see. If your client can easily see private information for another client, their trust in you will plummet. Ensuring confidentiality for all clients will make everyone feel more protected.

General Guidelines

  • Don’t speak to staff members about your clients’ private care.
  • Avoid speaking to other therapists about a client with non-essential staff members present.
  • Don’t discuss the client’s follow-up meeting or any “homework” you ask for in public spaces, including waiting rooms and hallways.

Protect Your Records

Where do you keep your records? And, perhaps more importantly, who has access to your clients’ identifying information and records? Record keeping is not optional. As a mental health therapist, you need to keep records primarily as a form of reference and also to protect yourself. You must find a way to keep your information from getting into the wrong hands. At the very least, invest in a lockable filing cabinet. Be sure to control access to this filing cabinet also. As an added layer of protection, your filing cabinet should be kept in a locked room, such as your office. Keep your office locked when you’re not using it, and keep the keys to your office securely on your person. But a better alternative to a filing cabinet is TheraNest, a robust, web-based practice management solution. With TheraNest, your client records are always kept safe and confidential. Instead of using paper and then worrying about securing those papers behind lock and key, go digital. Digital record-keeping makes it so convenient to access your client information from wherever you need to, including the office, your home, or even on the go. Plus, TheraNest is both HIPAA-compliant and encrypted. Learn more about TheraNest here.

Soundproof Your Office

One of the best ways to improve client confidentiality in your office is to soundproof it. No one else—not by accident and definitely not intentionally—should be able to hear the private counseling conversations between you and your client. But what if you’re renting an office space and you can’t remedy the thin walls? Invest in a sound machine. Any sound machine will do—whether you go with a white noise machine, a background music player, or even a water fountain. If you’re not sure which to choose, consider a white noise machine. It almost magically masks the voices of people in other rooms. Place your sound machine in the waiting or reception area. That way, it should drown out or make it difficult to understand the conversation in your office. Of course, you should definitely test it with different voices (male, female, young, old) to make sure that the machine masks your conversation satisfactorily.

Train Your Staff

It’s not enough for you alone to uphold the confidentiality of your clients. Your staff should also respect the client’s privacy—and it’s your responsibility to make sure that they do. Here’s how you can work with your staff to protect your clients’ privacy: Don’t use client sign-in sheets. Standard client sign-in sheets show the names of other clients. This is a no-no when you’re protecting the identity of your clients. Instead, keep records of sign-ins right in your TheraNest software. Allow clients to fill out and submit their own intake forms online (or via an Internet-connected tablet in office). Not only does this improve the standard of confidentiality in your office, but it also reduces staff error and has the added benefit of eliminating a paper trail. Design your intake form with our client portal, Client Portal. Our Client Portal makes it easy to schedule clients, accept credit card payments, and sync information automatically and in real-time. Plus, our Client Portal is completely secure—so your clients’ information remains private. Operate on a need-to-know basis. While you may need to provide the client’s private information to a third-party payor, such as an insurance company, remember that you only need to provide the minimum information necessary. Your staff should know what information to share (and to whom) and what information to never give out. Ensure the computers and fax machines are kept in private, restricted areas. Because fax machines and computers often display sensitive information, these tools shouldn’t be kept in a common, public space where other clients may have a chance to see them. Limit access to client records. Ideally, you’ll have a paperless practice that’s all digital, but if you still have physical records, be careful to keep these records safe. Use storage with locks, and also limit who has a key to this storage. Protect yourself after terminating employment. You should change locks and computer passwords if you have to fire a staff member. While it may seem excessive, it’s better that you’re safe than sorry. Plus, it’ll be a good reminder to hand out keys to staff members only on a must-know basis. Stay up to date on your state laws. Not only should you be aware of any privacy laws concerning mental health and private practice, but your staff should also know. Make it a habit to stay informed.

Related Resources

Before you go, check out these additional resources:

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