Focus on privacy and confidentiality in pharmacy

31 October 2016

We hope that this series of articles will help pharmacy owners and the pharmacy team continually improve the services they provide to patients and the public.

This month we are focusing on maintaining a person’s privacy and confidentiality - a key priority when pharmacies and pharmacy professionals provide pharmacy services, and process or handle information.

The responses and feedback from our consultation on the standards for pharmacy professionals told us that privacy and confidentiality are important to the public when they visit a pharmacy. This has also been confirmed by our research into public perceptions of pharmacy, and  highlighted by Healthwatch in England, and by NHS Scotland and  NHS Wales, who explain that people expect to be given the privacy they want when it comes to how services are delivered.

Based on what we have heard, we’re focusing on two important areas:

  • Respecting a person’s privacy and confidentiality
  • Managing a person’s information

Respecting a person’s privacy and confidentiality

As part of our consultation feedback, people told us that they expect to be able to talk to (and answer questions from) pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in private, without other people overhearing. Some respondents were concerned about having to share their personal details and health information in an environment where others can hear, saying:

“I feel there should be a room for privacy purposes”

“I was asked for my name and address in front of other customers: I would rather have been asked for one or the other. I worry that other customers might overhear.”

“I heard a pharmacist read out a list of another patient’s medicines and I thought this was bad because it could have been medicines for something embarrassing.”

Quotes from responses to our consultation on standards for pharmacy professionals

As a pharmacy owner or superintendent, it’s important to consider how the whole pharmacy team can respect a person’s privacy, using the resources and facilities available in your pharmacy- including a private consultation room if you have one.

The design and layout of the pharmacy can be crucial in making sure that conversations can’t be overheard on the phone or face to face, and that computer screens are not visible to avoid information being accidentally disclosed.

You and members of your team could also consider asking people at the outset of a conversation if they would prefer to discuss something in private, away from other customers.

The case studies below are examples of what we have seen through our inspection of registered pharmacies:

  • A busy pharmacy had a sound-proofed consultation room to make sure conversations between staff and patients were held in private. There was a notice on the consultation room door to explain the pharmacy’s chaperone policy, so patients were aware that they could choose if they wanted others to be present. The consultation room was clean and professional, with health promotion posters and leaflets about services related to the pharmacy. The pharmacy also had cordless phones so that conversations could be taken in private, away from customer-facing counters.
  • The physical design of the pharmacy also helped to protect patient privacy. For example, frosted glass fins created individual booths at the medicines counter (including a lower section of the counter for wheelchair users) so customers could hand in their prescription or receive advice in private. A small frosted glass room between the main pharmacy and substance misuse area provided private access to the medicines counter for the public and could also be used for counselling patients where extra discretion was needed.
  • As part of the queuing system, customers completed the back of their prescription form on an island in front of the medicines counter, dividing the medicines counter area from queuing customers. This protected the privacy of customers when they received their medicines, as other customers were much less likely to accidentally see their prescriptions.

Managing a person’s information

As a pharmacy owner, you must have arrangements in place to make sure that your pharmacy team manages information consistently, to protect the privacy, dignity and confidentiality of patients and the public who receive pharmacy services. This covers personal information relating to patients and the public, employees, and company information - and includes spoken words as well as written information in print or on screen.

In our consultation feedback, we heard from pharmacy professionals that understanding how and when to protect, access and use patient data is not always clear in practice. It is important that you and the members of your team are aware of your responsibility to manage information carefully and to protect patient confidentiality, and understand how to carry this out in practice.

As a pharmacy owner or superintendent, it’s helpful to consider your pharmacy premises, and the equipment, facilities and arrangements you and your team use in the pharmacy. This can help you provide assurance that you handle information correctly and protect it from unauthorised access, loss, damage or destruction.

By regularly reviewing and monitoring information governance arrangements in your pharmacy, you will be able to identify improvements which in turn will benefit patients.

These case studies are good examples of information management we have seen through our inspection of registered pharmacies:

  • A pharmacy provided a leaflet explaining to the public how patient information is safeguarded and used by the pharmacy. They also had a public confidentiality statement in the waiting area of the pharmacy, to make sure people knew the information they provided would be held confidentially.
  • Another pharmacy had lockable cabinets and drawers for confidential information, and held patient information in a locked consultation room. They restricted access to the computer and patient medication records to authorised users, who needed a password to see the information. In the dispensary, the team used baskets in different places to make sure confidential information was separated from general waste, and that it was shredded and disposed of securely.
  • In one pharmacy, confidentiality agreements and procedures signed by all staff and third parties were held in an up-to-date information governance kit. The kit showed that the pharmacy manager carried out information governance internal audits quarterly, and all staff had completed their annual information governance training. The pharmacy also had systems in place to review and change their information governance practices where appropriate.

Find out more

Here are some of the resources available to help you and your team find out more about information governance:

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