Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is She a Whistle-Blower or Violator of Patient Privacy?

A hospital fired a full-time medical assistant because the hospital says she breached patient privacy by "shoulder surfing". She says she is a whistle-blower punished for trying to expose a co-worker's violation of patient privacy. What do you think?

The medical assistant, who had been employed by the hospital since 1994, is accused of looking over the shoulder of a co-worker while he was examining a patient's medical record. The medical assistant claimed she only did this to see if the co-worker was examining a patient's medical record without authorization.

The medical assistant then reported the co-worker and provided information about the patient being accessed to her supervisor. In response, the hospital fired her because, according to the hospital, she violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) not just once, when she looked at the patient records over her co-worker's shoulder but a second time when she gave her supervisor information about that patient.
"A hospital spokesman declined to comment on the case and declined to say whether [the medical assistant's] unidentified co-worker was fired." - The DesMoines Register
The medical assistant had reportedly been previously disciplined for patient data privacy breaches, as well as, attendance and work performance. After she was fired, she applied for unemployment benefits but the hospital fought her application. The judge ruled against the hospital saying it had not proven any work-related misconduct.

What do you think?
So what do you think? Is the medical assistant a whistle-blower or a violator of patient privacy? What additional information would you want to have to when making a judgement? Feel free to leave your thougths and comments?

For more insight on this case see these posts on previous breaches of patient data privacy at this hospital. Sources:
(a) 2 fired at University of Iowa Hospitals for peeking at records - The DesMoines Register, June 21, 2011
(b) UIHC fires 2 employees for patient-privacy violations - Press-Citizen, June 21, 2011

1 comment:

Angeni said...

My first comment is-Who was the co-worker? Someone who should not have been looking at the chart? In that case, this medical assistant may have had grounds to report. I say 'may' have because there are some who just look for opportunities to 'blow the whistle'-it gives them joy.
Also, out of all the patients I have talked to, they all say they don't care about HIPPA or who knows what about them. Of course, if it came down to the line, those same patients would probably care at least about some people knowing about them.
Second-I would want to know why this medical assistant was standing around looking over other peoples shoulders like Big Brother. Did she misunderstand what the companies compliance rules meant? In other words, what was her reason and motive for looking in the first place? Those hand held computer screens are pretty small, she had to be close in order to see information to tell her supervisor patient information.

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