Worried About HIPAA Violations

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by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.


Hi Nurse Beth, I have a question … I admittedly have major anxiety. It affects my work being that I overthink and tend to make a mountain out of a molehill. I try to follow ALL the rules. HIPAA is something I am TERRIFIED of breaking and I’m 10000% sure I’ve done it a million times.

My problem comes from the idea of breaching it AFTER being better educated on what it is. I enjoy anonymous formats such as this platform and others but realize in the past while posting that I may have anonymously posted my nursing stories with TOO much information. Of course I never have posted a patient's name or DOB but I’ve used ages .. or approximate ages … our interaction including certain things that were said in conversation … diagnoses. How ignorant I was.

When I think back after reading about HIPAA I tried to erase my posts although they were anonymous but some posts can’t be deleted on some platforms. I’m freaking out (although these are posts from years back ) thinking what IF my former patients or their family members find my posts and say “that person took care of my parent .. or this sounds extremely familiar “ or “wow … so and so died around Labor Day … and so did the person in this article “ my point is … what do I do since I can’t erase my online data from years back? Do I report myself to HIPAA? Even talking to my friends or family who likely have no idea the exact location of where I work I get afraid of sharing stories with them out of fear that I’m saying “too much”. 

Dear Major Anxiety,

Don't report yourself to anyone. Put it in your rearview mirror and let it go. It is extremely unlikely anything at all will come of your posts. Accidental violations by nurses are bound to happen from time to time. One of the most common ways of HIPPA violation is through gossiping, sharing health information with friends and family who do not have a need to know.

It is best to never discuss specific patients on social media.

However, typically nurses are not sued by patients under HIPAA federal law as there is no private cause of action in HIPPA. Patients complain to healthcare organizations. Nurses can be fired by their organizations and can also be fined.

 HIPAA requires healthcare professionals to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patients' protected health information (PHI).

Privacy is the right of every patient to determine how, what, when and where information about themselves is disclosed. Confidentiality is the obligation we have to maintain another's privacy. PHI includes patient's age, address, telephone number, diagnosis and any information that can be used to identify the patient.

Here's an example of a nurse who was fired for a HIPAA violation. A PACU nurse, a doctor, and a technician were at a patient's bedside pre-procedure. The nurse told the doctor to be sure and wear gloves, as the patient had Hepatitis C. The patient complained because others could hear the exchange outside of the curtains. The court upheld that sharing that the patient had Hepatitis C was not necessary, and that a physician should not need to be reminded to wear gloves during a procedure.

The key was necessary versus unnecessary sharing, "unnecessary sharing of confidential health information". 

National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) provides guidelines for nurses and social media.

Major anxiety and perseverating are not fun. It's possible that your problem is not your old posts but your anxiety. Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. If you haven't seen a provider for an assessment, get a check-up and let a professional decide if you would benefit from treatment.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth




Has 8 years experience. 16 Posts

Thank you so much. I agree… my anxiety is beginning to concern me. I will take your advice and seek treatment. Thank you