Considering The Consequences of Full Privacy That’s Required by HIPAA

There are many tales of mistaken leaks of medical information. Occasionally there is a computer glitch allowing unauthorized people to access information. Files left out in plain view can be picked up by anyone passing by. Seamingly small errors of judgement can result in a HIPAA privacy violation for hundreds, if not thousands of patients. This can be upsetting.

Worse than the simple errors in judgement are intentional leaks. A star is treated at a clinic and one of the medical staff copies their information and sells it to a tabloid. Believe it or not, a relative of a medical worker stole a spreadsheet that contained patients’ contact info and contacted them to to tell them they were HIV positive as a joke. Some of these stories are disappointing to say the least.

The topic of privacy violations—whether intentional or not—raises an important question. Is it ever okay to violate the rules of HIPAA? Is protecting patients privacy more important than anything else? Are there times when keeping a patients’ information private might cause them—or others—more harm than good?

Before moving on let’s address a few things. The previous examples are undoubtedly unethical on the part of the HIPAA violators and harmful to the victims—psychologically, emotionally, and financially. Many times it is obvious that HIPAA regulations result in protecting patient privacy. Using a persons health should never be used for personal financial gains. Also, no one should be giving out false information about a patient—to him nor to anyone else. That is unmistakeble. But what about some situations that may lie in the gray area?

How about for the safety of the public? Is it ever more safe for others to disclose an individuals health information? What about highly contagious diseases – should schools and workplaces be notified in order to protect others? Due to HIPAA, you are required to protect that persons privacy, but what about the health of others that could be negativly affected by being around them? Are those people less important?

What about the patient’s own safety and well-being? Physicians have access to a large amount of personal info. That information must be kept private according to HIPAA. What if a doctor is aware of a recent suicide attempt and thinks it would be beneficial to notify a family member to have them keep an eye on the patient and offer support? Is it better to guard the patient’s privacy or his life?

These are tricky questions to answer. But in a world that has become so obsessed with safeguarding the privacy of the individual, maybe it is time to stop and ask ourselves “Is there a downside to so much privacy?”

For more information about HIPAA Compliance and ways to ensure your facility has all the proper training and manuals required by law, visit our website at HIPAA Compliance.org