Keeping Patient Information Private
Omar is a nursing assistant in a local hospital. He works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), an area in the hospital that cares for seriously ill patients.
Last week, someone stopped Omar in the hall and asked him a question about one of the patients in ICU. Omar had just started caring for the patient that day, but he often saw this person visiting the patient several times a day in the past. Omar told the person that he could not give information without checking with the patient first. Omar explained that this is part of HIPAA, or the law that protects patients’ medical information. Did Omar do the right thing in this situation?
Yes, Omar was correct in handling this situation. Omar took an ethics in healthcare class and learned that HIPAA is a law in the United States that protects and provides security for data and medical information. With HIPAA, protected health information can be given to someone only if the patient has agreed, if the person receiving the information is part of the patient’s care, and if the information is needed for that person to be involved in the patient’s care. Since Omar didn’t know who the person was, he could not give out private medical information without checking with the patient or others on the patient care team.
In his ethics class, Omar learned more about HIPAA. He knows that HIPAA focuses on 3 areas: privacy (names, SSN, DOB, and other personal data), security (keeping all health information secure or safe), and administration (using codes for electronic medical records). Omar knows that he should not have conversations about one patient in front of other patients or their visitors/families. He also makes sure to lower his voice when talking about patient information in person and/or over the phone. Omar also makes sure to not have conversations about patients in public places, such as elevators, hallways, or the cafeteria.