How would you handle a situation in which you saw a staff member who violated HIPAA


You log into a closed group on a social networking site and read a

posting from a fellow nursing student. The posting describes in detail

the complex care the student gave to an older patient in a local

hospital the previous day. The student comments on how stressful

the day was and asks for advice on how to deal with similar patients

in the future.

Ethical/Legal Points for Consideration

• Protecting and maintaining patient privacy and confidentiality

are basic obligations defined in the Code of Ethics for Nurses,

which nurses and nursing students should uphold.


• As outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and

Accountability Act (HIPAA), a patient’s private health

information is any information that relates to the person’s past,

present, or future physical or mental health. This includes not

only specific details such as a patient’s name or picture but also

information that gives enough details that someone may be able

to identify that person.

• You may unintentionally breach privacy or confidentiality by

posting patient information (diagnosis, condition, situation) on a

social networking site. Using privacy settings or being in a closed

group does not guarantee the secrecy of posted information.

Others can copy and share any post without your knowledge.

• Potential consequences for improperly using social networking

vary based on the situation. These may include (1) disciplinary

action by the state board of nursing; (2) being disciplined,

suspended, or fired by an employer; (3) dismissal from a nursing

program; and (4) civil and/or criminal charges.

• A student nurse who experienced a stressful day and is looking

for advice and support from peers (e.g., “Today my patient died.

I wanted to cry.”) could share the experience by clearly limiting

the posts to the student’s personal perspective and not sharing

any identifying information. This is 1 area in which it is safest to

err on the side of caution to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Discussion Questions

1. How would you deal with the situation involving the fellow

nursing student?

2. How would you handle a situation in which you saw a staff

member who violated HIPAA?



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