Monitoring phone calls and e-mails

March 2, 2007

Our group's new policy manual states that management reserves the right to monitor doctors' and staff members' phone calls and review our e-mail without our knowledge. It seems to me this policy could breach patient confidentiality. Is this legal?

Q: Our group's new policy manual states that management reserves the right to monitor doctors' and staff members' phone calls and review our e-mail without our knowledge. It seems to me this policy could breach patient confidentiality. Is this legal?

A: Yes, as long as there's a business reason for such monitoring, it's legal for an employer to listen in on business phone conversations and review e-mail. The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits a covered entity to use and disclose protected health information for healthcare operations purposes. That would seem to include listening in on conversations with patients for quality assessment and improvement. A recorded message should advise all parties that the call might be monitored.

However, listening in on personal phone calls is a felony under the Federal Wiretapping Act and could be the basis of a civil suit by the employee and the other party to the conversation. If your employer is monitoring a business phone call, he must stop immediately if the conversation turns to personal matters.

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