The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn

Breaching patient confidentiality can bring serious consequences

The confidentiality of your patients is critical. In fact, it is so important that there are federal laws to protect it, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known widely as HIPAA. As a Pennsylvania nurse, you understand how seriously you must take the rules governing the privacy of your patients. They depend on you and others on their medical team to hear about their symptoms, their habits and their lifestyle, and to use that information only to build a plan for their care.

If patients thought you would tell their secrets to others who are not involved in their medical treatment, they may not trust you enough to reveal important details about their conditions. As a result, they may not get the care they need, which not only affects their well-being, but, in the case of infectious diseases, may affect the greater good. When someone accuses you of violating patient confidentiality, it is a serious charge.

What are HIPAA violations?

In a world where social media is so prevalent, it may be hard to recognize when something is appropriate to share and when it is not. Sometimes you walk a fine line on the job. If a distraught family member, curious coworker or even member of the press asks for information about a patient, you may feel pressured to reveal details you should not.

Some common ways a nurse may violate patient confidentiality include the following and others:

  • Reading the protected health information of someone else's patient
  • Sharing a patient's protected health information with anyone not involved in that patient's care, including your family and friends and those on social media
  • Taking protected health information with you when you change jobs
  • Using a patient's protected health information for your own benefit or to bring harm to someone else
  • Using a co-worker's login information to access a patient's protected health information, or sharing your login information so someone else can access information to which he or she is not authorized

You may never take these steps to intentionally violate a patient's rights. However, even an accidental violation of HIPAA can mean disciplinary action for you. For example, if you leave a patient's file open on a desk or on a work computer, you risk someone else seeing information they have no right to. Likewise, you may accidentally dispose of someone's confidential medical information in the trash instead of following protocol for protecting patient privacy.

Accusations of HIPAA violations can bring serious ramifications, such as termination from your job, loss of your nursing license and even criminal charges. It is not a matter to take lightly or to face without the representation of an attorney with experience in these matters.

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The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn
1420 Walnut Street
Suite 1200
Philadelphia, PA 19102

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