Patient Confidentiality

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“Jeremy and his medical staff posing while confidential patient details were once visible” Photo provided by Associated Newspapers Ltd

The privacy of a patients’ medical information is very important and should be ensured at all times. Anyone’s medical information has the possibility of being released without the consent of the patient. In fact, patients’ medical records have been released on multiple occasions. This puts the patients at risk of their protected health information, or PHI, being used or disclosed by covered entities, or health care providers who transmit the medical information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, was enforced in 1996 by federal legislation in order to protect all health information and prevent the release of private patient medical information.

The Indiana State Department of Health defines the HIPAA laws as health information dealing with two sets of regulations; the Privacy Rule, which deals with the protection of patient medical records and other personal information, and the Security Rule, which requires security procedures that medical providers must implement to insure confidentiality of electronic health information. HIPAA applies to all health care-related organizations, or covered entities including heath plans, providers, health care clearinghouses, and federal Medicare and State Medicade programs. The rights that an individual has under the HIPAA laws include access to information, amend information, accounting and disclosures, and notice of privacy practices. These rules insure the privacy of medical information for patients; however, they have been broken in the past and have brought up controversy in the health field.

Patients’ information has been released on multiple occasions, whether is be intentionally or unintentionally. In one instance, Jeremy Hunt, a medical professional, accidentally breached patient confidentiality by presenting patient medical records on social media. According to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, this violates the patient’s confidentiality. The image was soon edited and the patient’s medical information was hidden; however, Hunt was still guilty of breaching patient confidentiality and almost lost his job. Lukily, Hunt did not face any charges. Some of the consequences for breaching patient confidentiality unintentionally that Hunt could’ve faced include a minimum fine of $100 per violation, with an annual maximum of $25,000 for repeat violations.

Not only did Hunt violate the HIPAA laws of breaching patient information, he violated the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements as a whole. This code influences “the promise that nurses are doing their best to provide care for their patients and their communities”. The code ensures that each health care providers in the Nursing profession support one another in the process so that ethical and professional obligations may be fulfilled. Now the HIPAA laws accommodate with the Code of Ethics in that “fulfilling ethical and professional obligations” requires keeping patient medical information secure.

Even if accidental, for example posting private information on social media just as Jeremy Hunt did, releasing patient health information is in violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and is, in fact, illegal. This is why you should always be aware of what information you are handling, especially if you are in or planing on joining the medical field, that way you can avoid breaching patient confidentiality and facing the consequences.

 

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