Sexual Harassment by Doctors, and Signs of Growing Acceptance for HIPAA Privacy Laws

Photo by AnnaKika, via Flickr

Photo by AnnaKika, via Flickr

RealityRN, a site popular with nursing students and new nurses, has a couple of interesting posts lately:

Here’s an anonymous post from a new nurse graduate looking for advice about how to handle sexual harassment by a doctor. How would you advise her?

And this post is a cautionary tale for all clinicians who’ve ever been tempted by curiosity about a patient: it describes just how easy it is for hospital information systems to detect when someone has violated HIPAA (short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy laws by accessing a patient’s record when they shouldn’t. While we all know how much confusion and resentment the more arbitrary and punitive aspects of HIPAA caused after its implementation in 2003, this month’s AJN describes clinicians’ growing acceptance of the law’s benefits, an acceptance resulting from growing familiarity with the law and from continued efforts to smooth out some of the law’s rougher edges.

[The] early focus on HIPAA’s punitive aspects led health care organizations to adopt strict privacy procedures and policies that left little room for clinical staff to exercise professional judgment in communicating patients’ health information. Now, most have relaxed this approach in response to feedback from clinical staff and consumers, as well as a friendlier informational Web site from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), whose Office for Civil Rights oversees compliance.

Is HIPAA getting easier for you?

Jacob Molyneux, senior editor
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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. jm July 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    It’s clear that, despite progress, there’s a lot of legitimate confusion still out there. You raise a good question about just who is working to clear this up. Probably more people than you’d imagine, though progress may be slow. We’d love to hear what kinds of “urban myths” you (and other readers)encountered about HIPAA when you returned to work as an RN. -Jacob

  2. Pam Herzog July 8, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Having just completed my recertification as an RN, having not worked in the field for a dozen years, I was highly interested in understanding the clear and precise applications and implications of HIPPA in the workplace, the acute care setting today.
    I found lots of urban myths potentiated by job security fears which perhaps might be imparing the ability for the clinical practice person to learn, to add to experience, and to improve care overall.
    Who will take responsibility for clear and concise interpretation and application? It appears it is not being done currently.

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