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Be careful, nurses. HIPAA rules are strict.

As a medical professional, you are well aware of the importance of maintaining the privacy of your patients. In fact, confidentiality is such a critical part of patient care that there are federal laws that regulate the storage, access and transmission of patient records. Most of those regulations are found in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Another essential part of your job as a nurse is forming relationships with your patients. Sometimes a patient may be exasperating and hostile, making your day stressful until you feel you just need to vent. Often, however, you are the face of compassion to frightened and worried patients. These situations and others may blur the lines of privacy.

Common privacy violations

A breach of HIPAA rules may result in serious consequences for you and your employer. Even an accidental release of protected health information (PHI) that your supervisor handles without involving outside agencies can mean a damaging mark on your employment record. However, more serious breaches place your job and your license on the line. Examples include:

  • Misrepresenting yourself as another employee to see the PHI of a patient not under your care
  • Failing to properly secure PHI from unauthorized access or disposing of it improperly
  • Allowing someone who does not have authorization to have access to a patient's PHI
  • Stealing PHI or taking it with you when you change jobs
  • Intentionally causing harm through the use of PHI
  • Sharing PHI through gossip

You may think nothing of chatting with your friends or family about a patient's private health issues, but even without mentioning the patient's name, you may reveal enough information to allow someone to discover the identity of the patient.

Beyond gossip

Your social media presence is probably important to you, and you may use it to post positive messages or to relieve stress. However, if these posts include even vague references to your job or your patients, you may be violating HIPPA rules. You may think it is inspirational to post a photo of a special patient or humorous to relate an incident from your workday, but these acts have brought trouble to nurses across the country, and many have paid the price for seemingly innocent social media comments.

If you are among those nurses facing disciplinary action or a threat to your professional license, you certainly would not want to risk making a mistake as you go through the process. A hearing before the disciplinary committee of the Arizona State Board of Nursing can be stressful, and the assistance of an experienced legal advocate can make all the difference. 

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