Maintaining client privacy is extremely important in ABA therapy. Behavior analysts (BCBAs) have an ethical obligation to protect the privacy of their clients. In the therapy and medical fields, privacy is related to a client’s right to decide what information is shared or what information is not to be shared regarding their identity and their services. A client also has the right to specify with whom they would like their treatment provider to share the specified information.
Sharing or Not Sharing Personal Information
Let’s consider an example of when a BCBA or ABA therapist might be in a situation in which a client (or a client’s parent if your primary client is a child) might consent to you sharing some information with a particular individual while not wanting you to share that information with someone else.
An example of this could be when a client decides whether they would like to allow their treatment provider (their BCBA or ABA therapist) to communicate with a schoolteacher or with a doctor or even with relatives such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. Even if you, as the ABA provider, feel that it is in your client’s best interest for you to share private information with another individual, you must respect your client’s opinion. It is important to be aware of the individuals with whom your client would like you to share information and the type of information that your client consents for you to share with the identified individual(s).
Sharing Information with One Individual that is Kept Confidential from Another
A more specific example of this could be when you are working with the parent of a child with autism. The parent might be okay with you sharing certain information with their child’s grandparent who lives in the home with the family, but the parent might not be as comfortable with you sharing that same information with the child’s teacher. The type of information that you might share with a grandparent living in the family’s home could be related to parenting skills such as discipline strategies or recommendations for caring for the child’s basic needs (like sleep habits and nutrition).
However, a parent might, understandably so, prefer that you not discuss that type of information with their child’s teacher. Instead, the parent might agree that you focus solely on the information and recommendations that are directly relevant to the child’s experience at school when you collaborate with the teacher. This would be information related to a behavior plan that includes antecedents and consequences that you recommend for the child in the classroom.
Whether to share treatment data, such as trends or analyses of increases or decreases in skills or behaviors, should also only be shared with a parent’s consent. If a client (or the parent of your client) doesn’t consent to allow you to share data or analyses of treatment data, be sure to respect their privacy.
It is important to treat clients and, in this case, to treat the parents of the children receiving ABA services, with dignity and to respect their privacy and their right to keep some information confidential.
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Respecting Your Client’s Privacy
BCBAs must respect their clients’ privacy and only gather enough information necessary to provide effective services and refrain from sharing or allowing others to access that information unless the client consents to the BCBA sharing their information for purposes of supporting their treatment or performing a specific task, such as a consultation with a child’s teacher or doctor. BCBAs should obtain a signed disclosure from their client to release or discuss confidential information.
Exceptions to Maintaining Confidentiality
There are only a few instances where BCBAs might share confidential information about their clients without their client’s consent or knowledge. Examples of this include mandated reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect, warning someone of imminent risk of danger, responding to a court order, and complying with legal requirements at a local, state, and/or federal level.
Privacy Concerns and Data Collection
Data collection is an essential component of ABA therapy, as well. When collecting data, it is necessary to maintain client confidentiality and respect a client’s privacy at all times.
There are a lot of potential confidentiality violations that could occur with paper-based data collection as well as electronic data collection systems. However, paper-based data collection often creates unnecessary risks when it comes to maintaining the privacy of our clients.
Home-Based Services and Traveling with Data
An example of this is when you provide home-based services, and you need to travel with your client’s data. This can present a risk to maintaining client confidentiality because having your client’s data easily accessible in your vehicle can create a situation in which someone could potentially be exposed to this information. This could happen if you were in a client’s home and someone entered your vehicle without you knowing or you could lose the client’s information if, in the very unfortunate event that you were to get into an accident.
Therapy providers, including BCBAs, must comply with HIPAA regulations. HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that keeps patient or client information from being disclosed without consent. BCBAs must consider how they will protect their client’s data based on these HIPAA regulations. Using an electronic data collection system that is HIPAA compliant (like Catalyst) can most definitely be a good strategy for addressing this requirement of ABA therapists.
To ensure that you comply with HIPAA regulations and respect your clients’ confidentiality, consider using Catalyst for ABA data collection. You can try out Catalyst by signing up for a demo to see if it’s a good fit for you.