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Patient Confidentiality (and It’s HIPAA, not HIPPA!)

October 1st, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

Patient confidentiality has always been an issue in nursing. One of the first things student nurses learn is the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality. This is drilled into them and the consequences of betraying this confidentiality can and often does result in expulsion from nursing school.

In the past, there have been stories of medical staff illegally obtaining information from patient files to get information they’re not supposed to have. This information could be anything from undisclosed illnesses to be used in court cases to learning about a celebrity who was treated in a particularly facility. In either case, the patient whose confidentiality was breached could have suffered as a result.

This need for patient confidentiality has grown to the point that in 1996, the government of the United States government developed and enacted the HIPAA act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability act. The HIPAA act is often mistakenly written as the HIPPA act – a pet peeve for many in the medical field.

Without a doubt, something had to be done. Confidentiality was becoming a joke in some places. The implementation of HIPAA reminded the staff about the importance of watching what they say and what they write, and who may hear or see it.

Gone were the blackboards and whiteboards at nursing stations that listed patient names and diagnosis. After all, how confidential is the care if anyone walking on the unit could see that J. Jones in Room 202 was admitted for rule out tuberculosis? Also gone were the days of admitting to anyone who called that “yes, Mrs. Smith was on the floor, yes, she’s in room 111 and she’s feeling much better now that her Foley has been removed.”

These moves, and those like them, are good. They protect the patients from unwanted invasion of privacy. But could it be that HIPAA – or its interpretation – sometimes goes too far? Nursing forums and chat rooms are often filled with messages from nurses who feel they were unfairly punished for committing a HIPAA violation when they clearly felt they hadn’t. Other nurses feel that HIPAA is often used as an excuse to get rid of nurses the administration has been targeting.

What do you think? Have you had any situations come about because of HIPAA?

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Posted in On-the-Job Fears

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