Nursing Students and HIPAA Violations

HIPAA's Application to Nursing and Nursing Students

Nursing students need to know the HIPAA privacy laws. That's so because HIPAA's Privacy Rule applies to nurses and nursing students just as much as the Rule applies to physicians, medical residents, and other healthcare providers. HIPAA's Privacy Rule applies to both covered entities, meaning healthcare providers transmitting electronic health information and a covered entity's workforce. HIPAA's regulation 45 CFR Section 160.104 defines a covered entity's workforce to include “employees, volunteers, trainees, and other persons whose conduct, in the performance of work for a Covered Entity, is under the direct control of such Covered Entity, whether or not they are paid by the Covered Entity.” Thus, both nurses whom a healthcare provider pays and nursing students who work as part of their clinical education must comply with HIPAA laws. That's why nursing schools routinely educate their students on the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act's requirements.

What HIPAA's Privacy Rule Protects

HIPAA's Privacy Rule generally protects patient medical records and other individually identifiable health information from disclosure to those who have no need to know the information for the patient's treatment or care. Dozens of individuals, from doctors and nurses to aides, directors, managers, and administrators, may need to see a patient record or learn about a patient's health in the course of the patient's treatment. Healthcare providers get patient consent to use their protected health information for treatment, billing, recordkeeping, and other appropriate purposes. But HIPAA's Privacy Rule generally limits disclosure to those who need to know for those lawful purposes. Nursing students generally learn HIPAA's rules early in their classroom work and receive frequent demonstrations and reminders in the course of their clinical studies. HIPAA's Privacy Rule is likely no surprise to you, even if the HIPAA violation allegations you now face are a surprise because they are false, unfair, exaggerated, or unsupported. You know a patient's privacy rights. You just need to ensure that you can show your nursing program that you have respected those rights.

Risks of a Nursing Student Violating HIPAA Laws

Nursing students indeed face risks of violating HIPAA laws. Nursing practice exposes the student to all of a patient's health information, both from the student's necessary patient record review and due to the student's presence during examination, treatment, and consultation. Nursing students necessarily learn what's going on with the patients whom they observe and for whom they care in clinical studies. Nursing students also necessarily share some of the patient information they collect in the course of their nursing duties and studies. With all that patient information, nursing students face risks of exceeding the patient's authorization and violating HIPAA's Privacy Rule. The Texas State University System's Lamar University nursing program, for example, lists these ways in which nursing students can unintentionally or mistakenly violate HIPAA's Privacy Rule:

  • Gossiping with co-workers, friends, family members, or others about patient health conditions
  • Sharing necessary information with co-workers who need to know that information but doing so in a public area where others overhear
  • Snooping through patient records out of curiosity or other personal reasons when the patient is not under the nursing student's care
  • Leaving patient records out on counters or computer screens visible to the public
  • Circulating patient photographs, videos, or other images or information on social media
  • Disposing of patient records insecurely, without shredding

Nursing Student HIPAA Standards

Nursing schools routinely require nursing students to comply with HIPAA laws through their student handbook professionalism standards. The University of Wisconsin-Madison's nursing school, for instance, maintains a HIPAA / PHI policy that cautions students that when they refer to “clinical experience with patients, you must remember that HIPAA privacy rules protect all information considered individually identifiable that is held in any format, including electronic and print format, and information that is transmitted (for example electronically or by mail).” The University of Wisconsin HIPAA policy, like policies at other nursing schools, requires the student to omit or de-identify all eighteen of the HIPAA identifiers constituting protected health information from their assignment submissions. The University of Wisconsin's HIPAA policy is part of its broader Nursing Student Compliance Program “as an essential part of their professional responsibility for patient safety.” Your nursing school is watching to ensure that you meet the nursing profession's legal requirements, including full respect for HIPAA's Privacy Rule.

Defending Nursing Student HIPAA Violation Charges

If you face your nursing school's allegations that you committed HIPAA violations in the course of your nursing studies, take those charges seriously. Get the skilled and experienced student defense attorney help you need to defend and defeat those charges. HIPAA violations are technical. For your nursing school to hold you responsible for a HIPAA violation, it may have to prove not only that you disclosed protected health information beyond the authorized consent but also that you knew the information was protected and that your actions deliberately disregarded HIPAA limits and conditions on that disclosure. If to the contrary, you were unaware of the information, unaware that HIPAA prohibited its disclosure, or acted in reasonable compliance with your instructor's or supervisor's instructions, then you may well have a defense. Your nursing school will provide you with a grievance procedure through which your retained student defense attorney can help you prove the disciplinary charges to be false, unfair, exaggerated, or unsupported.

Nursing Student Defense Available

Nurses depend for their employment on their good reputation for the care of patients and respect for patient rights and interests. Few things can undermine a nursing student's reputation and career as much as an allegation of a HIPAA violation. Don't ignore disciplinary charges based on an alleged HIPAA violation, even if you believe the allegations will not lead to formal discipline. You need and deserve a clean professional record as you seek licensing as a nurse and employment in nursing practice. Your best move is to retain premier student defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team for aggressive defense of professional misconduct charges. Attorney Lento has helped hundreds of college and university students nationwide preserve their investment in their education. Attorney Lento is available to help you defend and defeat false, unfair, exaggerated, and unsupported HIPAA violation charges. Attorney Lento may also be able to negotiate with your nursing school's oversight officials for alternative relief that preserves your nursing education. Get the help you need. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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