Friday, December 18, 2015

Protect Your Livelihood By Creating A Culture of Compliance

Part of being an effective leader is developing and nurturing a culture within your office that leads to success

Sarah is a nurse at a hospital and she had just sat down at a table in the cafeteria to eat her lunch. It has been a stressful day so far and one patient in particular was weighing heavily on her mind. Three of Sarah's co-workers, who are also nurses, came to sit with Sarah and eat their lunch as well. While they were eating, the conversation about their day began. The four nurses did what many healthcare workers do, they talk about work. Nursing is a very challenging job and sometimes it helps to talk about patients when they are weighing heavily on your mind. Sarah began to tell her co-workers about the patient who is not doing too well and how the doctors were baffled about the case and quite concerned. Unknown to Sarah, some family members of the patient she was referring to were sitting near by and were able to hear the conversation. Sarah's use of identifiable information during the conversation, enabled the family members to know that it was their loved one she was talking about and the things she was saying were all new to them.

Merriam-Webster defines culture as:
A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization

It is the culture of an organization that helps define the organization itself. An article from written by Susan M. Heathfield best describes organizational culture, "Culture is the environment that surrounds you at work all the time. Culture is a powerful element that shapes your work enjoyment, your work relationships, and your work processes.  But, culture is something that you cannot actually see, except through its physical manifestations in your work place.".

Where Does Culture Develop?
Culture is developed and created by the leadership within an organization. They are the ones who plant the seeds of the organization's culture through their policies, procedures, actions, example they set, and the language they use. It is the workforce members who are the ones that refine and grow the culture within the organization. It is the leadership that plants the seed and the employees make it grow into the living organism that it will become.

Culture = Behavior and Attitude
Culture is something that is learned and developed through interactions. When an organization puts a policy in place, it is the responsibility of the leaders to ensure the policy is understood and that the procedure is followed. This begins with the leader's behavior and attitude toward that policy. If a leader demonstrates through their actions and example that the policy is important, than that behavior and attitude become part of the organization's culture.

Culture of Compliance
When employees see that the treatment and well being of a patient are important to their leaders (doctors, administrators, etc.), then the treatment and well being of a patient becomes important to them as well. This focus on the care of the patient then becomes part of the culture within that organization. When employees see that protecting the health information of the patient is not a high priority for their leaders (doctors, administrators, etc.), then protecting the patients privacy and health information will not be a priority for them either. This type of behavior and attitude will then become part of the organization's culture.

Protect Your Livelihood
How is it possible for the leadership of an organization not make compliance a priority, but expect their employee to make protecting their patients health information an important part of their job? The answer is, you can not. It is not possible to have one without the other. If the leadership of a health care office want their employees to protect their patients health information, then the leadership needs to ensure that they make being in compliance an important aspect of the organizational culture. If the employees do not believe that being in compliance is important, then they will not strive to protect the patients health information. This in turn will put the organization at serious risk of either an audit or a situation that could destroy the reputation of the organization itself.

By creating a culture of compliance within your organization, you are saying that protecting your patients health information is important to you and your employees. If Sarah worked in an organization that had a culture of compliance, maybe she would have been more aware of what she was saying in a public area. It is important to understand that a culture of compliance does not only apply to HIPAA. It also applies to OSHA, Human Resources, and Medicare. Having a culture of compliance within your organization will help protect your organization and build a positive reputation within your community.

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