What to know about protecting your private health information

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Posted at 10:17 AM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 12:17:41-04

BOISE, Idaho — You might be back in the office or heading back soon, but before you go in, there are some important things to know about keeping your health information private and secure.

Dale Dixon, Chief Innovation Officer for the Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific, says when it comes to contact tracing employees, they're seeing a wide variety of practices.

"Even at the BBB office, we have a no-touch scan thermometer. Every employee takes a temperature, and then uses a QR code with their phone, logs in, and answers a quick set of questions in a survey about symptoms, and any contact they've had with somebody who might have symptoms," explains Dixon. "Those are the standard things that we're seeing as people go back into the office. It's the resulting employee data where the concern is, and that's probably going to some type of central repository."

Dixon says that repository is accessed by a human resources representative, and it needs to be limited to just one or two people who have access to the information. He says businesses that are also logging information about customers need to make sure to treat that data carefully, especially because this is a new territory for many offices.

"If you're an employee, it's important for you to know exactly what's happening with your personal information. If you're an employer, it's something that you've got to think about seriously. Just setting up the protocols, putting the pieces in place, collecting the data off the surveys, and tracking information about who's come in contact and what symptoms they might have, and what their temperature is on a daily basis isn't goo to just go into an open database that can be viewed by anyone. You have to think seriously about where that data is, how it's being protected, where it's being stored, and how it's being disposed of," says Dixon.

BBB is teaming up with the Federal Trade Commission to provide people with information to consider, including what is and what isn't legal for employers.

"It is legal for employers to be taking their employees' temperature and to be collecting the information about contract tracing solutions. They need to tread very carefully here when documenting and storing personal information," Dixon explains. "Legal experts are telling us when a company takes this information, when an employee discloses it, they open themselves up to legal liability."

Dixon says employers need to be open and honest with employees about what's happening with their information, and it's critical to assess the data privacy issue. Companies should specifically talk and share with employees what happens if an employee does come to work with COVID, and how is that information being shared with other employees.

For more about data privacy and keeping your health information safe, click here. Businesses can also find guidance about navigating the COVID-19 pandemic here.