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Don’t make UCSD’s mistake: protecting patient privacy & data security when posting online reviews

Being on the forefront of an undeniable movement in healthcare takes vision with a sizable dash of courage. Nearing the finish line only to start over from scratch takes even more of both.

The University of California San Diego (UCSD) Health saw the value in embracing the shift toward healthcare transparency and prepared to join dozens of healthcare systems nationwide that have worked with a survey vendor to capture the experiences of patients who receive care from their doctors, and convert the survey responses from patients into verified online ratings and reviews—either with the help of an experienced transparency partner like NRC or on their own, like UCSD.

This invaluable information is put to work providing a roadmap to improving patient experiences across the organization and providing a pathway to more empathic care. It also becomes a resource of reliable, virtual word-of-mouth reviews that can bring prospective patients through the doors of your hospital the next time they need care.

But as go-live day approached, a member of UCSD’s project team noticed there was no disclosure to patients that the information they provide on a survey may be published on the internet. So, the hospital decided to add a clear and conspicuous disclosure to all surveys and postpone its go-live to the tune of three to six months later.

A Successful Transparency Program Requires Expertise from a True Partner

I congratulate UCSD for demonstrating patient privacy is its foremost concern, and for recognizing a pretty glaring omission in the survey package the hospital system was provided.

But the truth is, it was an easily avoidable misstep if you have a partner to counsel you on best practices that protect you, your physicians and most importantly, your patients at every step of the process.

For us at National Research Corporation, this means sharing best practices with you even before you are our customer: We’ve been providing free to anyone considering a transparency program through our hctransparency.org website for the past year. Below are a couple of relevant tips for smoother program implementation.

A Clear Disclosure Is Your Line In The Sand Between Anonymity and Confidentiality

At NRC, the first step we require of every new transparency client is to outfit their surveys with clear and conspicuous disclosure and consent language that complies with their organization’s legal and regulatory requirements.

While not every privacy disclosure is the same, every client’s survey includes a clear, straightforward disclosure that is consistent with the language of the survey or cover letter it appears in.

Any healthcare system that may be considering going transparent and publishing verified patient reviews in the next 12 to 18 months should work with its legal and compliance teams to develop and add the appropriate language to its surveys now — there is absolutely nothing to lose in doing so, and it could prevent an unfortunate project rewind down the road.

A Thoughtful Comment Screening Process Protects Your Patients (And You)

Once the patient understands that their comments may be shared anonymously online, it’s time to deliver on that promise. You must have a proper workflow in place—a thorough and comprehensive comment review process—to ensure patient privacy and anonymity is always protected, which means screening for and scrubbing potentially sensitive information beyond just the bare minimum legally Protected Health Information.

NRC employs trained experts and best-in-class technology to flag sensitive comments for all of our transparency clients – to help ensure that any information that could lead to the identification of any patient is protected.

For clients who prefer to review all comments themselves, we provide workflow tools and guidance to establish a screening process with clearly defined exclusion criteria that is easy for their staff to implement and manage.

When Timeliness Is Everything, Delays Can Feel Devastating

Because NRC has partnered with more healthcare systems than any other transparency vendor to convert their patient experience survey data into verified, searchable patient reviews published on their websites, I understand how frustrating it must have been for UCSD’s team to delay the launch of their transparency initiative and lose months of data — but it was the right thing to do.

As consumers take on more responsibility for selecting and paying for their healthcare, providers throughout the country are moving as quickly as possible to implement the tools that patients want and need to make informed decisions about where to receive care and what to expect — and many hospitals still have the opportunity to be the first in their markets.

That’s why we have proven systems in place that allow our transparency clients to go live, without hiccups, in as few as three weeks from the date they select NRC as their transparency partner.

Experience Collecting Surveys Doesn’t Always Translate To Experience Publishing Them

Protecting the rights and privacy of patients is essential, and while taking the survey data already collected and converting it into a trusted resource to guide care decisions for future patients in your community seems like a simple initiative with fairly immediate rewards, i’s must be dotted and t’s crossed, like in any other endeavor in our industry.

That’s why it’s vital to have an experienced partner to help you, fully versed in the nuances of all pieces of the puzzle — collecting, converting and publishing patient-reported data — to avoid costly setbacks like the one experienced by UCSD.

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