As a nurse, your day is spent with your patients and their information. You review patients’ records, listen to their health histories, administer medication, and engage in therapy. It is well-known for experienced nurses that all patient information is confidential and federally protected; however, new nurses often doubt how to maintain a patient’s privacy and confidentiality in an appropriate way.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act established legal mechanisms to ensure privacy and security of medical identity and protected health information. HIPAA established security requirements for the exchange of certain health information and regulated its disclosure. HITECH magnified HIPAA to promote the implementation of electronic health records and supporting technology in the United States.

Nurses are obligated to protect confidential information about patients, unless required by law to disclose the information. Here are 7 key elements that new nurses must take seriously in order to prevent potentially disastrous violations.

1. Adhere to workplace security and privacy policies in protecting confidential patient information.

2. Understand and be compliant with HIPAA rules and regulations.

3. Understand the definition of individually identifiable health information, known as protected health information (PHI), and when it can be shared, how it can be shared, and with whom it can be shared. Examples of PHI covered by HIPAA include:

  • Demographic information
  • Health conditions, including diagnoses and test results
  • Clinical data, such as lab results, diagnostic test results, procedures, and medications
  • Billing and payment information
  • Photographs

4. Learn how to implement reasonable safeguards to limit incidental uses or disclosures and avoid patient disclosure pitfalls. Remember, the patient is the final arbiter of what information is shared and/or transmitted.

5. Always keep anything with patient information out of the public’s eye.

6. Learn how to discard confidential information appropriately in accordance with your workplace privacy policy.

7. Consult with your HIPPA office or Human Resource office for any suspicious activities that may compromise patient confidentiality. Do not be afraid to ask for the guidelines and workplace security and privacy policies and procedures.

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