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HIPAA Violations of Speech Privacy

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by Mandy Kachur


Have you ever been in a pin-drop quiet medical waiting room or pharmacy and needed to discuss your medical condition with a person behind the counter?  Was it uncomfortable because you knew others in the room could hear you?  Technically, this is a situation ripe for HIPAA speech privacy problems, where bystanders are able to overhear your medical conversations.  


This situation happens.  For example, a pharmacist can violate speech privacy laws by

talking too loudly about personal information at the counter in a chain store (  While medical staff is trained to keep conversations at a low level, sometimes this is not possible with hearing impaired persons.  


Often, a lack of precaution or understanding of the situation prevails.  While asking customers to stand behind a line or come to the counter individually, this is frequently not sufficient in quiet spaces where others are nearby.  


One acoustical solution is the installation of a sound masking system in the area where listeners could overhear conversations.  The system plays a broadband sound (often called Dzwhite noisedz) through loudspeakers at listener locations, and the sound aurally covers the speech happening at the counter.  


Personally, I have yet to find a waiting room or a pharmacy that has employed this readily available and effective technology.  A masking system is another level of protection that medical offices and pharmacies can offer patients and customers, and ought to be given more consideration as an overall strategy for protecting patient and customer medical privacy.