Working from home: information and privacy challenges

· January 28, 2021

Like many GLAM sector workers, I’ve been working from home since the end of March 2020. This means that instead of being in an office full of colleagues who are other information professionals, I’m working next door to my partner, who is an allied health professional. This situation has brought us some information management challenges.

Prior to the pandemic, my partner rented his own private consulting rooms. He was also a member of a group practice which offered confidential receptionist and administrative support, and where he was able to store a locked filing cabinet containing his hardcopy clinical records. Because of coronavirus, he had to shift his practice fully online, could no longer maintain his private rooms, and was no longer able to remain part of the group practice. This meant that he, his practice, and his physical records, had to move to working from home.

Securing hardcopy and digital records

There were a number of information management and recordkeeping issues that arose with this situation. Firstly, the physical records. These are in a locked cabinet, but for additional security he had a secure lock installed on his bedroom office door. As well as protecting the hardcopy records, this also protects the laptop he uses for online consultations, clinical notes, and correspondence. So while it has the unfortunate effect of changing our domestic space into one in which he has a massive security lock on his bedroom door, which isn’t exactly welcoming to me, it does at least mean that any records in his room, hardcopy or digital, are physically secure (he also takes additional steps to digitally secure the electronic records, but this hasn’t been affected by the change to working from home).

Access to information for emergencies

Then there was the issue of emergency planning. When he was part of a group practice, there was a receptionist who would be able to contact people in case of an emergency. However, now that administrative support isn’t available, we discussed what the options would be. We decided that, because of the proximity I have to the situation and because I have a good understanding of privacy and confidentiality as an information professional, if something were to happen to him in an emergency scenario it would make sense for me to be the one to contact the people he sees to let them know. For this to be possible, however, I would need to be authorised to access their names and contact information.

My partner discussed his concerns relating to the changes happening in his practice with a clinical supervisor and explored relevant ethical and legal requirements for his new situation. Based on this reflection and advice, he prepared a formal confidentiality document for me to sign, as well as a document for the people he sees explaining the situation. This included explaining my relevant professional background in recordkeeping and information management, disclosing that we are personally related as part of the informed consent process, and the proposal that I be granted access to their name and contact details so that they could be contacted in case of emergency. He got in touch with all the people he works with and asked them to read the document. He then discussed the proposal with each of them to make sure they understood and offered alternative options for anyone who might be uncomfortable or who might have what’s called a ‘dual or multiple relationship’ with me – meaning that they might already know me in another context. They all appreciated his careful approach to a complicated and unexpected situation, and they all agreed that I should have access to their name and contact information for this purpose.

Preventing oral privacy breaches

Finally, there was the issue of sound transfer. We didn’t want to risk an oral privacy breach due to sound carrying through walls or doors, having already gone to some lengths to protect hardcopy and electronic information. This has involved a multi-pronged approach involving white-noise machines, heavy rugs, insulating wall drapes, and careful furniture placement.

I think we managed the transition to working from home together pretty well, and would say that, on the whole, an information worker and an allied health worker make surprisingly good neighbours.