Corporate Compliance

HIPAA Q&A: HIPAA concerns when discussing a colleague's health

Compliance Monitor, May 9, 2012

Q. One of my colleagues has been quite open about her health issues in the office. She is also a patient here. Does discussion of her health issues in the office violate HIPAA?

A. This brings up the important distinction between HIPAA violations and plain old gossip. Discussing information you obtained during the course of business due to your access to PHI (either via medical records or from hearing others discuss it in the course of providing care) is a HIPAA violation.

However, discussing information (even medical information) that a coworker shared does not violate HIPAA violation as long as you didn’t use your position to obtain the information. For example, two employees discussing a colleague’s medical condition while working at a department store are not violating HIPAA; they are merely discussing information they received from the colleague or others. This type of discussion could be considered gossip, and therefore probably not wise, but it doesn’t violate HIPAA.

Editor's note: Chris Simons, RHIA, director of health information and privacy officer at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, N.H., answered this question in the May Medical Records Briefing. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.