(These are actual questions asked by physicians at risk management seminars. The answers are general guidelines only and are not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of very complex subjects.)

"Often when I call patients to discuss lab results, I leave messages on their answering machines. If someone else retrieves the message, have I compromised the patient's confidentiality?"

Possibly. You can avoid this by finding out from the patient how he or she wants you to handle the answering machine dilemma. When you tell the patient you will call, ask if she wants you to leave a substantive message (detailing your findings) or simply a call back message. Better yet, include this question on your patient intake form, so you have it documented in the chart what the patient wishes you to do.

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