Healthcare workers have access to a lot of information including patients’ medical records. It is the responsibility of the facility to keep this information private and prevent its misuse. But did you know that federal law mandates that only direct caregivers involved in a patient’s care can see their information and that accessing a person’s medical records without authorization is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?
This was the case when as many as 40 staffers, including doctors, were suspended from Palisades Medical Center in New Jersey when they were accused of accessing George Clooney's medical records and possibly leaking information to the media. Some employees were disciplined for looking at the records without authorization, despite not sharing the information with others.
"What these individuals did was violate a HIPAA regulation," hospital spokesman Eurice Rojas explained. "We can not say that they actually released any of this information to the media. That is not what we have found internally."
Although Mr. Clooney didn’t seek legal action, the incident was a public relations nightmare and brought trust into question. Even if the people involved didn’t release information to the media, they were still violating HIPAA for accessing the records without authorization. Regardless of if they were aware that their actions were inappropriate, they still violated a federal law.
To prevent incidents such as this one, it is vital to ensure that everyone on your team is aware of HIPAA and other laws regulating your facility. Safeguard medical records from prying eyes and create an authorization process for access. Additionally, be extra cautious when high profile patients are being treated by your facility.
Clooney’s response to the incident was, “While I very much believe in a patient’s right to privacy, I would hope that this could be settled without suspending medical workers.”
Palisades Medical Center was very fortunate that Clooney didn’t seek legal action. But the facility’s reputation was tarnished, and there was additional backlash from the HIPAA violation. Protect your facility’s reputation by respecting every patient’s right to privacy, even Hollywood heartthrobs.