Possible termination for HIPAA violations

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    I am a young nurse that has only been practicing for 1 1/2 years. I love my job as a nurse, and I just got my dream job at a hospital I have always wanted to work at. I have been there for 4 months and I was called into HR for a meeting. They asked me why my name was on patients computer charts that I did not take care of. They informed me that was a HIPAA violation. I was completely devastated as I thought HIPAA violations were more like wrongly giving information out, obtaining info to use against someone, or copying information and taking it with you. Those kind of things were what I thought of when I thought of HIPAA. I didn't look at charts to find someone I knew or anything like that. I am a night nurse and I would just browse during downtime. I couldn't tell anyone the first thing about what was going on with any of the patients. I was just ignorant and didn't realize that I was violating something. They are talking about termination. What can I do to learn from this? To save my name? To save my license? What happens after termination, if that's what they decide.

    Thanks for your time,
    Desperately needing guidance,
    J
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  3. 95 Comments so far...

  4. 0
    I know now that I have done wrong. I wish I would have known before all this. I have not been able to eat, drink much, or function normally. I am heartbroken that I could lose my job and my respect. Please help me understand what happens next. I am sorry for it all and I would do anything to make it better.
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    I'm currently in nursing school... we were taught about the minimum necessary information rule. You only need to know the minimum information about the pt to provide care, but you weren't technically taking care of those pts, so technically you should not have been "browsing" their charts. To me, that's no different then going in the lunch room and talking about said pts.

    Please view: the hhs.gov website. Also, we were taught there are fines and possible imprisonment involved. Don't get too worked up until you know for sure what the outcome is going to be.
    Last edit by tdmaher on Sep 22, '11 : Reason: add more info.
    Sparrowhawk likes this.
  6. 9
    Quote from Magnolia619
    I am a young nurse that has only been practicing for 1 1/2 years. I love my job as a nurse, and I just got my dream job at a hospital I have always wanted to work at. I have been there for 4 months and I was called into HR for a meeting. They asked me why my name was on patients computer charts that I did not take care of. They informed me that was a HIPAA violation. I was completely devastated as I thought HIPAA violations were more like wrongly giving information out, obtaining info to use against someone, or copying information and taking it with you. Those kind of things were what I thought of when I thought of HIPAA. I didn't look at charts to find someone I knew or anything like that. I am a night nurse and I would just browse during downtime. I couldn't tell anyone the first thing about what was going on with any of the patients. I was just ignorant and didn't realize that I was violating something. They are talking about termination. What can I do to learn from this? To save my name? To save my license? What happens after termination, if that's what they decide.

    Thanks for your time,
    Desperately needing guidance,
    J
    Um yeah. If you are not directly caring for those patients, you have NO business being in their charts. That really should have been covered during your HIPAA portion of orientation, but even beyond that, SOMEWHERE along your education/clinicals/work experience you should have been aware of this.
    There have been some very high-profile nursing dismissals over this very thing, 4 nurses at U of Iowa were fired for accessing charts of football players that they did not treat.
    Definately a firable offense, not saying your facility will do so. I really don't know as far as licensure though.
    GrnTea, DizzyLizzyNurse, Zombi RN, and 6 others like this.
  7. 4
    Quote from tdmaher
    I'm currently in nursing school... we were taught about the minimum necessary information rule. You only need to know the minimum information about the pt to provide care, but you weren't technically taking care to those pts, so technically you should not have been "browsing" their charts. To me, that's no different then going in the lunch room and talking about said pts.
    Yes, but by the letter of HIPAA, non-treating staff do not belong in patients charts. Even if she didn't tell anyone what she read, it is still a violation. Why do you think facilities police such things? This is how the OP got "caught"--random auditing it looks like.
    I feel for the OP, but honestly how can an RN not know this?
  8. 1
    Thank you Colleen, I was trying to get that.
    sallyrnrrt likes this.
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    I know I probably heard it somewhere but as I said I thought of HIPAA as sharing information. Ignorance on my part I know. My hospital orientation what more general, for everyone from food servers to cleaning crew to nurses to aides. It didn't have a verbal session about it, and from what paper work I had it wasn't on there. Not saying what I did was right, but I definitely learned from it. Now what?
    sallyrnrrt likes this.
  10. 2
    Yes this is an offense that is likely going to result in termination. I don't believe that it is reportable to the board of nursing (based upon what you describe) but it is possible. There is also the potential for fines, but only if it is reported to the governmental agencies as facilities are not empowered to fine their staff.

    If you have personal malpractice/liability insurance, contact your carrier. NSO now has a rider as of late last year that will cover fines & costs to notify affected clients/patients. (If a violation is discovered the facility is supposed to formally notify affected patients/clients): "NEW - Information Privacy Coverage1 (HIPAA) - up to $25,000 aggregate:
    • Reimburses you, up to 25,000 aggregate, for costs to notify patients or clients of the violation of confidential personal information in compliance with privacy protection laws. It will also cover HIPAA fines and penalties you become legally obligated to pay.
      1Effective for current insureds at renewal and new policy holders beginning November 1, 2010." (Source: http://www.nso.com/professional-liab...e/benefits.jsp )

    sallyrnrrt and Hospice Nurse LPN like this.
  11. 1
    Oh and HIPAA doesn't only pertain to the sharing of protected health information but access to protected health information as you now know. That is why it is stressed that you only are to access information on patients/clients who you are actively participating in care/treatment.

    Simply obtaining (accessing) protected health information can be a criminal offense with fines up to $50,000. "Criminal Penalties. A person who knowingly obtains or discloses individually identifiable health information in violation of the Privacy Rule may face a criminal penalty of up to $50,000 and up to one-year imprisonment. The criminal penalties increase to $100,000 and up to five years imprisonment if the wrongful conduct involves false pretenses, and to $250,000 and up to 10 years imprisonment if the wrongful conduct involves the intent to sell, transfer, or use identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain or malicious harm. The Department of Justice is responsible for criminal prosecutions under the Privacy Rule."

    As for what to do now, it is likely your employer will terminate you in order to mitigate damages & avoid fines from the federal government as you illegally obtained protected health information. If you have malpractice/professional liability insurance, notify your carrier to see if you have coverage for HIPAA violations. Next, educate yourself about the law & requirements. Ignorance is not an excuse.

    http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/index.html
    Esme12 likes this.
  12. 3
    As the other posters have mentioned, call your insurance carries NOW!! HIPAA isn't a joke and I'm sorry you are learning this the hard way. I still can't imagine going through your nursing program you didn't learn about this.

    Even w/o HIPAA, we were told the first day of LPN school, that you only accessed a pts records if you were caring for them. Good luck!
    DogWmn, J.e.n.n, and NurseLoveJoy88 like this.


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