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HIPAA Privacy Rule & Patient Confidentiality

HIPAA Privacy Rule & Patient Confidentiality

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

HIPAA Violations in the Media

Three healthcare workers and a contract nurse were fired from their jobs at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. They had accessed medical information about victims injured in the Arizona shooting incident that took place on January 8, 2011, but the patients were not assigned to the employees for care. According to a CNN news report, upon learning of the breech of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, hospital administrators immediately fired the workers and the contract employer fired the nurse.

Over the past few years, other nurses have been fired or disciplined for HIPAA Privacy Rule violations, because they were discussing a patient on websites like Twitter and Facebook, and even posting patient images.

In 2010, some emergency room staff members from St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, CA, took photos of a severely injured stabbing victim in their ER, and posted them on Facebook. Employees at the hospital recognized the photos and reported the incident. While some of those involved were fired, two of the nurses were only disciplined.

Over at Tri-City Medical Center, in Oceanside, CA, in June 2010, five nurses were fired for discussing patients on Facebook. This came three years after other nurses were fired from the same facility for taking pictures of a suicidal patient and x-rays.

But sometimes, is the privacy rule taken too far? Are healthcare professionals being punished for extreme reasons?

For example, on November 10, 2010, nursing student Doyle Byrnes was in a lab class at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS examining a placenta. While she and her group were working, they took photos of the placenta and one of Byrnes holding it. According to the students, the teacher was aware that they were taking the photos and did not object.

Later that day, the photo was posted on Byrnes’ Facebook page. According to the Wall Street Journal, it wasn’t long after that when she received a phone call from her teacher telling her to remove the photo. The next day, Byrnes was kicked out of the nursing program.

While some people may question whether posting the photo on Facebook was a good idea, was it worth ending a promising nursing career? There was no way to identify where the placenta came from: no names, no identifying marks, not even a date of when the placenta was delivered. In other words, there was no breech of confidentiality because no-one would be able to tell whose placenta that was. Additionally some argue that Byrnes received no complaint from the teacher when taking photos, and immediately complied by taking the photo down once requested.

Next: Consequences of Violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule >>

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