Thursday, February 25, 2010

Agents in the Waiting Room: To Warn or Not

Continued from: DEA Suboxone Audits: The Video

I wrote earlier in HIPAA's Gaping Loophole: A Privacy Myth about the problem of compromised waiting room privacy when non-patients appear at the doctor's office. Although we may not always know in advance to expect such and intrusion, sometimes, as in the case of the current audit of OBOT physicians by DEA, we do.

When I became aware that DEA planned to audit my records I informed all my buprenorphine patients. I also informed the psychotherapist with whom I share my office. This seemed adequate until I read notes from a physician who questioned a DEA agent about the audits. According to him agents conducting audits (investigations) of doctors treating addiction under DATA 2000 should, "provide the receptionist a card, but not flashing a badge. Agents are to conduct themselves in a low key manner and will not actively work to attract attention, other than the interaction with the receptionist."

At first I thought, "Good, they will keep a low profile." But then it occurred to me that my patients might want to know whether the person sitting next to them is another patient or a federal investigator. Then I thought about my patients who do not take buprenorphine, and about the patients (or clients) of the other professionals in my office. Maybe I should post a sign in the waiting room:

"WARNING: DEA Agents May Be Present"

I ran the idea by a friend. She said that would be a good way to get rid of patients. Seems to me that anyone in the waiting room has a right to know, and that this fact should take precedence over the possibility that we might lose a few patients. I plan to ask my office mates.

What would you want as a patient? What would you want as a professional? What would you want as a federal agent?

BTW: As of a minute ago, because of DEA's refusal to schedule my audit, I have turned away 8 patients seeking buprenorphine treatment.

Worst Experience of My Career: a Follow Up

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