Corporate Compliance

Q&A: Discussing a family member's medical problems

Compliance Monitor, March 16, 2011

Q: I work in patient financial services at a hospital. Like me, several of my coworkers have aging parents. Sometimes at lunch, we discuss the medical problems of our parents, who are not patients at our hospital. My supervisor says these discussions of family members’ medical problems violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Is this true?

A: Discussing the health problems of family members who are not patients at your facility does not violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Your hospital is a covered entity pursuant to HIPAA. As an employee, you are required to protect the confidentiality of patients at your facility.

Nonetheless, you should still be respectful of your parents’ privacy and limit these discussions with individuals outside the family. Think about the information you’re sharing and ask yourself whether you would want your information discussed in this manner. Also remember that your coworkers may not keep these conversations confidential and may share this information with their friends or family members.

This question and answer tip was adapted from the March 2011 issue of Briefings on HIPAA. More information about Briefings on HIPAA is available at the HCMarketplace.

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