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We do a narcotics count by reading all the information aloud, even if patients are present. Is this in violation of any privacy laws?

Friday May 31, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

We do narcotics counting and endorsement by reading it aloud with the complete name, medication, dose and number of pills left, even when there are patients present. I am very uncomfortable doing this, but my director strongly instructs the staff to do it this way. Is this a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or any other kind of privacy law?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Joseph,

It is unclear why your director of nursing requires narcotics counts to be done verbally. Has anyone asked why this needs to be done? Having a rationale might help correcting parts of the process that seem to be violations of a patient's privacy, confidentiality and HIPAA, when patients and others are in hearing range of the information.

Perhaps one way to change the process would be to do the verbal count in the medication room or the nurse's station with a closed door, so only those in the room or nursing staff would hear the information. This would not be a violation of HIPAA or the patient's privacy and confidentiality.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.