You’ve seen it on every major news outlet, it’s all over social media and the app developers are racing to keep up with demands. No doubt Pokemon Go has infiltrated our homes, offices, public spaces and yes… that list includes healthcare facilities! While everyone from grandparents to kindergarteners are getting in on the craze of searching for virtual creatures and acquiring their gems, what does this mean for those of us in healthcare? How does this social phenomenon translate to patient safety, HIPAA compliance and more?
Hospital leaders are finding players of the popular game wandering onto medical campuses to play, causing a number of potential issues that affect not only the safety of the gamers, but that of patients, hospital workers and patients’ rights to privacy. Congested lobbies, players wandering into the path of clinic staff and finding their way into hospital areas that are off-limits to the general public, such as ICUs, are just some of the headaches being reported across the country. As a result, a number of healthcare organizations are currently working on notifying the public those facilities are off-limits for games and alerting staff to call security if they spot any players wandering campuses. “It just poses too high of a risk to patient safety and privacy for us to allow players to enter our facilities,” states the Compliance Officer of a healthcare system in Kansas City, Mo.
While hospital leaders are keeping a keen eye towards the effect on their facilities, fans of the popular game are spreading the idea on social media of sharing the “fun” of Pokemon Go to children who are currently hospitalized. One post was discovered on social media, encouraging viewers to share their extra lures with their nearest children’s hospital:
“I’m not sure people have thought through the impact a multitude of visitors searching for Pokemon will have on a Children’s hospital,” states Gary Powell, Compliance Manager at DataFile Technologies. “Unnecessary visitors to children’s hospitals strains the security resources of those hospitals, threatens patients with immune deficiencies, as well as patient privacy. Players are concerned with bringing children happiness, but while endangering their wellness.”
This poses a sincere threat to the patients and the public that hospitals are addressing. Healthcare leaders are turning to their industry associations for assistance in dealing with the security and privacy issues this game is causing. Becker’s Hospital Review website outlines some of the attempts hospitals have made to mitigate the issue. A number of healthcare associations, such as the American Hospital Association, are now getting involved by contacting the developer of Pokemon Go, Niantic, on its members’ behalf in an effort to have hospitals removed from the game. Other state associations are encouraging members to contact the app developer and fill out a form to remove their facility from the game. Some healthcare entities report the process works, being removed as a stop from the app, but only to nearly immediately find they were placed back as a location on the app. Because of this, some organizations are now calling on the Office of Civil Rights to get involved.
These attempts to stop players and remove organizations are good, but they leave an important aspect of this matter on the table, altruism. These players mean well, but are misguided in their attempts to help. Guiding the players toward an amicable solution means the players get what they want, to help in an enjoyable way, while the hospital gets what it wants, for the players to not be present. Suggesting that instead of playing Pokemon in the hospital, that they download charity walking applications like the Relay for Life or Charity Walk apps, which they can use while playing Pokemon everywhere, means that they can contribute to the children all the time, while not endangering them.
As the craze continues, or another geo-location game takes over with such wild popularity, healthcare will continue to be impacted at this intersection. Culture will continue to pressure organizations to immediately adapt to new demands in social life, and as our culture evolves, adapting with it may provide more opportunities than adapting against it. As always, be mindful of your organization and how participation from your patients, employees and the general public may be affecting your responsibilities as a Covered Entity, but be aware of the opportunities that can grow out of it.
Article written in collaboration by Gary Powell, Kathryn Ayers Wickenhauser and Jamie Verkamp