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Clinical Corner: Protect Yourself from HIPAA Violations

HIPAA - Clinical Corner: Protect Yourself from HIPAA Violations
Protect yourself — and your patients — from HIPAA violations!

By Laura Friend, Clinical Nurse Manager at Medical Solutions 

I remember a nurse practitioner coming up to me one evening while I was working and saying, “Hey, don’t discharge room 11 yet, I have to print the prescription for her antibiotic.” I replied that I had already sent her home with it. The NP corrected me, saying it was room 10 that I had already sent home. As it turns out, she put the discharge papers and prescription for the patient in room 10 outside of room 11, and the two patients had similar diagnoses both warranting antibiotics. In a hurry, I didn’t double-check the papers with the patient’s name; the discharge teaching and prescription made sense. My heart sunk: This was a HIPPA violation.

As nurses know, HIPAA is short for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a privacy law that protects patients’ medical records and health information. A HIPAA violation occurs when standards are not met and policy is not followed, and it can happen in many ways. It can result in fines, prison time, and/or loss of a health care provider’s license. Facilities offer their employees training opportunities regarding HIPAA in many different forms, multiple times per year. Health care professionals should know the basics of HIPAA — locking computer screens, not discussing health care information with others, and properly disposing of medical records. There are additional ways to protect yourself that may not be as widely known, such as:

  • Do not look up patient records unless you are directly involved in their care. It is a violation to look up a celebrity, VIP, or “unusual case” that may be at your facility. It doesn’t matter if you are curious, spiteful, or even trying to be helpful to a friend or family member — unless you are directly caring for that patient, stay out of their medical record. 
  • No social media posting! You may think that it’s okay to post a picture of an injury or wound if you don’t post the patient’s name. However, people may be able to identify the patient by tattoos or other markings. It’s also possible to violate HIPAA just by posting a vague status about someone for whom you cared. Maybe someone knows you work in trauma and later reads about a shooting that went to your facility. It wouldn’t be too hard to put two and two together. Finally, it is a HIPAA violation to post a selfie with patient, even if you are friends, have built a great rapport, or they give you permission. A good rule of thumb is to keep anything related to patient care off your social media accounts.
  • Be careful discussing medical information with a patient when they have visitors unless they give you permission. You should always ask the patient if they are comfortable discussing their health with others in the room. If they say no, politely escort the guests out before disclosing anything regarding their care.
  • Lastly, be careful when gossiping. We all know nursing is stressful and, at times, even humorous. But please remember that hospitals are busy places — there are always patients, family members, or other employees around. Be mindful of who may be within earshot when you’re talking about patients, no matter what you are saying.

It is crucial to keep patient information private and secure. Complete and stay up do date on annual training. Pay attention to who is around when you’re discussing a patient and do not post about patient care on social media. If you have any questions or concerns regarding HIPAA, please reach out to the Clinical Team at Medical Solutions and know that we are always here to help!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Sarah Wengert, a creative content writer for the amazing Medical Solutions based in Omaha, Nebraska. While I'm not a Travel Nurse, I love to travel and I truly appreciate the hard, important work that nurses do. I'm very happy to represent a company that cares so much about its people. Thanks for reading!

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