Consider Privacy During COVID-19 Preparations and Response

As we all take steps to prepare for COVID-19, the UNC Health Privacy Office would like to remind staff that our patients’ right to the privacy of their protected health information (PHI) does not change even if it is determined that they have been infected with the coronavirus. Please remember that all Epic access is still being monitored, privacy violations are still be investigated, and corrective action will be imposed if an employee is found to have violated a UNC Health privacy policy.

The UNC Health Privacy Office is available to help staff navigate the unique situations that may arise during this time.  Please contact our office at 984-974-1069 or email us at Privacy@unchealth.unc.edu if you have any questions.  Any known or suspected violations of patient privacy should be reported using our online system found here.

Please keep the following guidance in mind:

  • Do not share patient information with anyone unless it is for a business purpose (i.e., in furtherance of treatment or a business operational purpose).
    • If you are unsure if you should release patient information, speak to a supervisor or contact the UNC Health Privacy Office (see below for contact information).
  • Do not gossip about patients and their conditions with your coworkers, friends or family.
    • This includes your posts to Social Media; releasing information about affected patients being seen or treated at your location could constitute a violation of UNC Health Privacy and Social Media Policies.
  • Do not access a coworker’s record unless you have a treatment-related need to know.
    • Supervisors/Managers should never access the personal medical records of their staff. If a staff member is sick, under no circumstances may the supervisor access the employee’s medical records directly in Epic.
  • Do not speak to the media about individual patients who are being treated at UNC Health.
    • Refer all media inquiries to the applicable UNC Health Communications office.
  • Follow appropriate protocols when sharing patient information with third parties such as the CDC or NC Department of Health.
    • If releases of this nature were not part of your job prior to COVID-19, they are not likely part of your job now. Refer these requests to the appropriate location.
  • When working from home, please be mindful of your surroundings and do not allow family members, friends, or visitors to overhear or see any patient information with which you may be working.
    • Additionally, PHI cannot be disposed of with your household trash; it must be kept secure until you can bring it back on site for secure disposal.
  • Remain especially diligent about potentially malicious phishing emails and attachments/links. Be very careful with anything related to topic of COVID-19 or coronavirus, where we have seen a large uptick with malicious sites and links. Think before you click.
    • Do not click on links in emails unless you know them to be safe.  Contact ISD with questions.