How Can I Keep Track of Multiple Hospital Passwords?

Edward (Ted) R. Melnick, MD

Disclosures

August 27, 2009

Question

At my hospital, we have to enter codes to pass through locked doors, and we have multiple passwords for accessing computers and other electronic systems. How can I keep all of this information organized?

Response from Edward (Ted) R. Melnick, MD
Attending Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, New York

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed into law. HIPAA increased confidentiality and security of health data. Violating patient confidentiality in the post-HIPAA era comes with stiff penalties, including the possibility of bad publicity, fines, suspension, job loss, and even jail time. Do I have your attention yet?

The result in our increasingly electronic practice environment is a plethora of password-protected systems, each requiring its own unique login and password. Creating strong and secure passwords presents a difficult balance between protecting patients' health information and impeding clinical workflow due to the difficulty in remembering these multiple passwords.

Here are some tips for creating strong and secure passwords:

  • Use a password that is easy to remember so that you do not have to write it down.

  • Use a password that has at least 6 characters with a mix of letters (capital and lowercase), numbers, and punctuation symbols.

  • Use a password that you can type quickly, without having to look at the keyboard, making it harder for someone to steal your password by looking over your shoulder.

  • Don't use keyboard patterns (asdf) or sequential numbers (1234).

  • Include similar looking substitutions, such as the number zero for the letter O or $ for the letter S.

So if you follow all of these recommendations, then you're going to have a bunch of really difficult strings of letters, numbers, and symbols to remember, right? Not necessarily. Use these tips for creating a strong password that is still easy to remember:

  • Create an acronym by choosing a line from a song, and use the first letter of each word.

  • Alternate between 1 consonant and 1 or 2 vowels, up to 8 characters. This provides nonsense words that are usually pronounceable, and thus easier to remember.

  • Be creative. Don't use words that can be found in a dictionary.

Although I cannot wholeheartedly recommend these shortcuts for remembering door codes and computer passwords, many people find them useful in a pinch:

  • Send an email to yourself with the pertinent codes and passwords. Whenever you can't remember one, pull up the email. If it's early in a rotation, keep a printout of the email in your pocket until you learn the numbers. If you do this, shred the document once you have memorized your passwords.

  • Write the codes and passwords in small print on a white adhesive label (usually found at most nursing stations in hospitals). Affix the label to the back of your ID badge. When you can't remember a number, it's right there on your badge. At the end of each rotation, peel off the label, destroy it, and start fresh. If you lose your ID badge, this method could set you up for some serious liability. So again, I cannot truly endorse it.

I hope these tips are helpful. Good luck and remember to stay safe.

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