HIPAA, the federal statute to protect the medical privacy of patients, can entrap doctors, nurses, and other health care providers in ways that sometimes are not obvious. In a recent case of mine, a licensed heath care provider who worked at a hospital mentioned to a “friend” that a certain well-known person had been in the hospital for medical treatment. This patient had not been cared for by my client, but the client had learned of the patient’s presence from another provider at the hospital. The transmission of the patient information to the “friend” was a HIPAA violation. But one might say “so what, no one will ever discover the violation.” Well, in the case things went very wrong and ended up in a bad place. It seems that there was a falling out between my client and the “friend” and the “friend” decided to damage my client by calling the hospital administration and advising that this HIPAA information had been revealed.
This sparked an immediate investigation by the hospital and I was called in to assist the provider. What followed was a back and forth negotiation which, thankfully, ended up well for my client. But, please note that this could have ended with the client being fired from the hospital, reported to the National Practitioner’s Data Base and having to go to an Administrative Hearing with the state of New York plus perhaps having to pay a substantial penalty tor the HIPAA breach.
The moral of the story is that all health care providers must be aware that HIPAA is a dangerous law that can do serious damage to a person’s career. Keep personal health care information to yourself so that you do not end up on the bad end of an investigation that could lead to a very unpleasant end.