Is this actually a HIPAA violation?

Posted

Hi everyone. I am currently a second semester nursing student and this morning I attended a meeting with the dean of our nursing program where I was informed that I had committed a HIPAA violation and was consequently placed on academic probation for the remainder of my program. There were four people involved in the situation, and all of us were placed on probation. I was not aware that what I did constituted a violation and I have the opportunity to challenge this decision so I wanted to get the opinion of others to help me decide what to do.

The story is long so I'll only explain my role in the situation.

A friend in my study group was at her clinical site. She sent a text to our study group asking what we would do if another student in our clinical group was saying that they were very overwhelmed and had thoughts of committing suicide. She did not give any identifying information other than the fact that this person was in her clinical group. I advised her as to what I thought she should do. She later responded that she and another student approached their clinical instructor and the clinical instructor took the student that was struggling to the ER and they had the potential to be placed on an involuntary 72 hour hold. At no time was this person's identity disclosed and I did not know who we were talking about.

On a different day, I was commiserating with another student about how hard school is with kids and work and I said that I had heard that a student in *my friend's name*'s clinical group had expressed that they were overwhelmed and threatening to kill themselves. We basically just talked about how bad we felt that someone in our class was feeling that way and that if we knew who it was we would do our best to support them.

Long story short, that was the extent of my involvement. It got back to our professors that this was being discussed and they were extremely unhappy which is why we had to attend that meeting today. So to those of you that are much more familiar with HIPAA laws, does this sound like I violated it to you? Thanks for any input you can offer.

NICU Guy, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU. Has 7 years experience. 4,036 Posts

No it is not a HIPAA violation. The other student called you and did not give the student's name. You gave your advise and didn't ask for the name. The next day when you were discussing it, there was no mention of the student's name (as if it would be difficult for the class to figure it out when she doesn't show up for class. One, she was not a patient that you were taking care of and two, there was no personal information divulged. If the other student was not a nursing student in clinical and it was your neighbor that approached you about her college age daughter, would that be a HIPAA violation just because you happen to be a nursing student?

Graduatenurse14

1 Article; 630 Posts

No, you and your fellow students need to fight this. Talking/gossiping about fellow students/professors is not a HIPAA violation. Find the true legal definition and get your case together to challenge it.

Good luck!!

klone, MSN, RN

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership. Has 16 years experience. 14,247 Posts

Yes, you should fight this.

Anonymous6578

Anonymous6578

17 Posts

Thank you for your response.

It's extremely frustrating because I was supposed to attend the NSNA convention next week but now that I am on academic probation, I am not allowed to attend as a representative of our school. Not to mention that because I'm not attending, I have to pay back the $500+ dollars that the school paid for my plane ticket and registration. I feel that if I challenge their decision and have it overturned, I should not be responsible for that money.

My university offers free legal counsel to students so I have a meeting scheduled with them on Monday but I wanted to get advice from some seasoned nurses so that I could get a better perspective. Thank you again.

JustBeachyNurse, RN

Specializes in Complex pediatrics turned LTC/subacute geriatrics. Has 12 years experience. 1 Article; 13,951 Posts

Your school needs to know the two main components of a HIPAA claim direct provider of service (you were not involved in her treatment nor were you even there at the site) and billing insurance

Perhaps gossip, discussing the mental status of a peer might be a gossip or even ethics or student conduct violation but HIPAA violation it is not. Purely on the misapplication of HIPAA violation to your probation status it would be logical to appeal

llg

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 45 years experience. 13,469 Posts

I agree with the others ... fight it ... you should not have to pay the conference expenses.

Get legal representation(as you seem to be doing, but be careful. Make sure the legal help provided by the school is working for YOU and not the school. If the school is paying the attorney fees, then the attorney works for the school and not for you. They will probably put the school's interests ahead of yours. Get that clarified before you divulge anything about the situation to the school's attorney or to school officials.

Good luck ... and keep us posted. This is an interesting case. (We care about you, too ... but it's also interesting.)

Anonymous6578

Anonymous6578

17 Posts

Get legal representation(as you seem to be doing, but be careful. Make sure the legal help provided by the school is working for YOU and not the school. If the school is paying the attorney fees, then the attorney works for the school and not for you. They will probably put the school's interests ahead of yours. Get that clarified before you divulge anything about the situation to the school's attorney or to school officials.

I am actually dually enrolled. The academic probation situation is at the community college level but the legal counsel is through my university, so hopefully this won't cause a conflict of interest.

Meriwhen, ASN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Psych ICU, addictions. 4 Articles; 7,907 Posts

A friend in my study group was at her clinical site. She sent a text to our study group asking what we would do if another student in our clinical group was saying that they were very overwhelmed and had thoughts of committing suicide. She did not give any identifying information other than the fact that this person was in her clinical group. I advised her as to what I thought she should do. She later responded that she and another student approached their clinical instructor and the clinical instructor took the student that was struggling to the ER and they had the potential to be placed on an involuntary 72 hour hold. At no time was this person's identity disclosed and I did not know who we were talking about.

On a different day, I was commiserating with another student about how hard school is with kids and work and I said that I had heard that a student in *my friend's name*'s clinical group had expressed that they were overwhelmed and threatening to kill themselves. We basically just talked about how bad we felt that someone in our class was feeling that way and that if we knew who it was we would do our best to support them.

Long story short, that was the extent of my involvement. It got back to our professors that this was being discussed and they were extremely unhappy which is why we had to attend that meeting today. So to those of you that are much more familiar with HIPAA laws, does this sound like I violated it to you? Thanks for any input you can offer.

No HIPAA violation. Even if you had known his/her name, you were not providing health care to this classmate so you had no patient/provider confidentiality to violate. Now if you were doing clinicals in the ER and he/she was brought in there on your shift, that could be another story...

If you haven't notified your malpractice carrier, do so. Get an attorney to help you with this...you can find attorneys versed in nursing matters including HIPAA here: TAANA Executive Office - Home. I second llg's advice: any attorney representing you should be paid for by YOU or your malpractice carrier, not the school because of the potential conflict of interest. The attorney is going to put the interests of the ones paying the bill first. The way to ensure that is you is to be the one who hires them.

Best of luck.

Edited by Meriwhen

BrnEyedGirl, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN

Specializes in Cardiac, ER. Has 18 years experience. 1,236 Posts

I agree with the others! No way this was a HIPAA violation! You didn't even have access to any private information on this hypothetical patient! Fight this with clear, accurate information. Good luck! Keep us updated.

TriciaJ, RN

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory. Has 41 years experience. 4,291 Posts

At best, the school could round you up and admonish you for gossiping about another student. But even that would be a weak case, at best. There is no HIPAA violation here. Sounds like the school doesn't want it known that students are stressed to the point of being suicidal. It doesn't make them look good and this is an attempt to muzzle and put the fear of god in everyone.

What the school really should do is debrief with the students who are concerned. They should be expressing their willingness to support students who are struggling and encourage anyone to come forward with their problems, as a show of commitment to student success. This is a fear-based knee-jerk reaction on the school's part.

Yes, get the legal definition of HIPAA, make sure your representation is really looking out for you, and fight this tooth and nail. We are all rooting for you.

Anonymous6578

Anonymous6578

17 Posts

Thank you so much to everyone that has taken the time to comment. I will update after I speak to the lawyers on Monday.

And I would just like to say that while yes, we were talking about the situation, the only sentiments that were expressed were how bad we felt for whoever the person was and that if they didn't have a support system, we would have been happy to include them in our study group. Of course, if they were to be brought in, we would finally know who the student was, but that wasn't the point. I know it doesn't change anything but I just want it known that I really had only the best intentions.