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Unit Secretary tells me she regularly snoops electronically

Nurses   (3,980 Views 34 Comments)
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The other day we had heard that we were getting an admit, a chest pain rule out. Then it didn't materialize, it turned out the patient was going to be transfered to a larger hospital. I said that I wonder what happened.

So the unit secretary pops on the computer and said, "Let's find out with my usual eavesdropping". I said, "Do we really have a need to know?" and she answered that she snooped all the time. I told her that her activities could be tracked, since she's logged in. She said that they've never said anything to her thus far.

What should I do? I don't want to rat on the unit secretary, but I do think that people should refrain from prying into things that don't concerned them, ala HIPAA. Our hospital is a small community hospital and so it heightens the risk of invading privacy since many people know one another.

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Well, a couple possibilities spring to mind right away -- you could either a) talk further with the secretary about why/how what she's doing is not just unethical, but illegal, and the consequences she could face if she gets caught, or b) just go ahead and report your concerns to your facility HIPAA compliance person (every hospital has one; it's a requirement of the HIPAA law).

Awkward situation for you to be in :( -- good luck!

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BIG violation! Since the pt was transferred the pt is no longer a pt of your facility, therefore there was no need to know. She does it all the time but hasn't been caught yet. When she does get caught she won't have a leg to stand on.

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Well, a couple possibilities spring to mind right away -- you could either a) talk further with the secretary about why/how what she's doing is not just unethical, but illegal, and the consequences she could face if she gets caught, or b) just go ahead and report your concerns to your facility HIPAA compliance person (every hospital has one; it's a requirement of the HIPAA law).

Awkward situation for you to be in :( -- good luck!

Yes it IS awkward. Maybe I can let the HIPAA compliance person know of the general problem and then also let the unit secretary know that she really needs to be stricter about this, if only to protect her job.

I have a feeling other unit secretaries might also be guilty. People should know, though, that their activities can be tracked.

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She'll get caught... and I have the feeling she won't learn anything from the outcome either. In my hospital, you can't even read your own chart, and charts are randomly audited.

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It is wrong, but unfortunately, this happens all the time. We used to have a unit secretary that used to look in the medical records to find the birthdates of staff members. I don't know if it was ever reported to the powers that be, but, one nurse cursed her out so badly in front of everyone that at least, the woman doesn't do it anymore. I have seen nurses look up things and tell each other's business. Nothing happened to them, either...in fact, one got promoted.

I would speak to the unit secretary again and tell her of the compromising situation she put you in and if she does this again, you will be obligated to report it.

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I think for her own job that you should tell her that you will report her if she keeps doing it, b/c you are correct, it is a HIPAA violation.

You would be doing her favor.

I would be horrified to know that someone "snooped" into my medical records just for entertainment.

I have also seen more people lose their jobs b/c of unauthorized use of a computer than I can count.

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And as a unit secretary, the patient is not her patient in the first place, so she has no reason to go snooping. And that is exactly what she is doing.

And wonder what she has done in the past with all of the snooping that she has done?

Hope that your facility starts to audit those that have access to the computer, and check her out. You may wish to suggest that they do an audit from time to time because you have your suspicions about a few people. That way you are not giving names, and then the responsibility falls to the facility as well since they were informed that a few have been in charts that they had no business looking at.

Looking things up on-line is the same as sitting and going thru a chart. Same consequences as well.

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I worked with someone who had a job where they had access to people's medical records. She told me about a co-worker who was fired for this type of activity. The person was going around to her former co-workers trying to gather support to get her job back. The person I knew told her off, something like "How would you like it if someone did this to you? You got what you deserved." If I were you I would talk to her one more time, warn her that you will provide the information she told you if the subject comes up, and let it be. If she wants to hang herself, that's her problem. If she is wise, she will change her behavior.

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I'll contact the HIPAA person, and I'll also mention it to the Unit Secretary next time I see her that she needs to refrain from looking up information. Thanks!

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I'll contact the HIPAA person, and I'll also mention it to the Unit Secretary next time I see her that she needs to refrain from looking up information. Thanks!

Good plan. You may want to ask her how she would feel if somebody somewhere were looking at her medical records, simply because they were curious.

If her behavior continues I think it would be prudent to inform her supervisor.

All persons that have access to the private, privileged information have an ethical responsibility to protect that information.

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