Improper Access of Patient Information
Nurses are expected to adhere to several ethical and legal requirements in their professional roles, including the need to protect and maintain patients’ privacy and confidentiality. Thus, the nurse acted in an improper manner by accessing confidential patient data in another unit of the facility. In addition, the nurse had no genuine reason to view these records except for personal gratification. Her behavior was tantamount to a breach of patient confidentiality and an unauthorized access. The nurse acted before thinking of consequences of her action.
Nurses must be informed about the mandatory rules and regulations concerning privacy and confidentiality of patients, as well as situations in conditions in which they can use and disclose all protected patient data (McGowan, 2012).
Legal and Ethical Concerns
Nurses are expected to care for their patients while respecting their privacy based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provisions. The Act recognizes that nurses are often privy to vital data about patents in their practice. The Privacy Rule was introduced to ensure that patient information is well protected but allow effective flow of information to enhance and promote high standards of healthcare.
From legal and ethical standpoints, patient confidentiality and privacy rights are critical issues. Any access to patients’ vital data should be strictly to individuals allowed to ensure care and should be on a ‘need-to-know’ basis (Mehnke, 2010). All nursing facilities have clear nursing practice guidelines to ensure that patient privacy and rights are paramount and protected from unauthorized use.
Nurses should not violate HIPPA. The Act focuses on confidentiality and protection of patients’ records across various channels and parties irrespective of their period of stay at a facility. The nurse understood that in instances where such records are required for other purposes other than treatment, she must obtain written permission or necessary disclosure statement from relevant parties. In this instance, there was no reason to warrant access of patient information.
Nurses have codes of ethics to observe at work. These codes guide nurse behaviors and their interaction with patients and patient information. Thus, irresponsible use of such data, especially for personal reasons, raises serious ethical concerns.
In addition, nurses have a duty to “protect all confidential data about their patients, unless the law compels them to divulge such information” (McGowan, 2012, p. 62). Nurses should only disclose or view patient information when they are necessary to deliver care to the patient. Patients should give permission to allow nurses to access their data. Alternatively, nurses can only view such information when prevailing circumstances allow them to do so. Specifically, such access should only be in the best interest of the patient, but nurses should not do so to meet their personal needs. Thus, the nurse in this case clearly violated ethical codes and disregarded HIPPA provisions on patient privacy and confidentiality of information.
These violations by the nurse were serious and could lead to severe consequences, including warning, fine, or a jail term.
While many patient privacy and confidentiality breaches may be unintentional violation of the law and codes of ethics, the nurse in this case did not take time to consider the repercussions of her “conduct before accessing patients’ information for personal gratification” (Mehnke, 2010, p. 48). Consequently, the nurse may bear serious consequences of her action. At the same time, the hospital also found a perfect scenario to develop lessons learned to help other nurses to understand what constitute violation ad avoid similar violations in the future, particularly in the era of electronic health records (Harman, Flite, & Bond, 2012).
Harman, L. B., Flite, C. A., & Bond, K. (2012). Electronic Health Records: Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security. AMA Journal of Ethics, 14(9), 712-719.
McGowan, C. (2012). Patients’ Confidentiality. Critical Care Nurse, 32(5), 61-65.
Mehnke, A. (2010). Managing a breach in patient confidentiality. Nursing Critical Care, 5(4), 48. Web.