Health Information Management

Careless actions can get you fired when it comes to HIPAA

HIM-HIPAA Insider, June 1, 2015

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The University of Iowa fired a student health center employee earlier this year for violating the privacy of a pregnant female student and her boyfriend, a well-known student-athlete, when the employee carelessly discussed the results of the student’s pregnancy test with a female coworker, Iowa’s The Gazette reported. That employee was also disciplined for the HIPAA violation.

Details of the incident were finally revealed in May when records of the investigation were turned over to various news agencies. The entire incident appeared to stem from the careless words and actions of a veteran lab worker who should have known better.

Over 14 years, Kathryn Trump received extensive training and instruction on how to protect students’ PHI, but that didn’t stop her from revealing out loud to at least one nearby coworker—right after she processed the positive pregnancy test—that she hoped the young couple was happy.

Trump even went so far as to point out the athlete to the clerk after she noticed he was in a waiting room. She also inappropriately accessed the patient’s medical chart at least twice, opening records of past visits and medications, The Gazette reported.

After speaking with Trump, the clerk—who was only identified as “Beth”—then went and spoke with two medical assistants who treated the female student and asked them for more details, The Gazette reported.

The clerk, who reportedly had a previous HIPAA violation, asked if the male student was present when the patient received the news and how the couple reacted. The medical assistants then reported the inquiry to a manager as a possible privacy violation.

Under HIPAA, a medical professional can only discuss the patient’s information with another medical professional directly involved in that person’s care and can only access the patient’s charts to provide care or treatment for that individual.

Nevertheless, this all occurred in the wake of three health center workers being fired and two others suspended in 2011 for inappropriately accessing medical records of 13 football players who were injured in an intense off-season workout. Following that incident, the university stepped up its training on HIPAA privacy laws.

Trump was fired in January, following an investigation by the school, and the clerk was disciplined. Trump admitted her actions during testimony in an April 26 unemployment hearing, according to The Gazette, and expressed sympathy for the young couple. She claimed, however, she was talking aloud to herself about the test results and didn’t intentionally look up the patient’s chart.

Her unemployment claim was denied and she’s appealing that decision via a union grievance.

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