Health Information Management

HIPAA Q&A: You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers!

HIM-HIPAA Insider, December 28, 2015

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Submit your HIPAA questions to Associate Editor Nicole Votta at and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.

Q: While I was treating a patient in the ER, the wife of the patient realized that we live in the same gated community. She complimented the security guard who works for our subdivision. On my way home, I stopped and told the security guard that I had met the patient's wife that day when she brought her husband into the ER, and that she had praised the security guard. I said nothing else about the patient. The security guard later texted the patient's wife, mentioning that I said her husband was in the ER. The patient's wife then wrote to my CEO with concerns that I had committed a HIPAA violation. Is this a HIPAA violation if I only mentioned that the patient was in the hospital but did not say why?

A: Yes, that would be considered a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Information about the patient—the fact that the patient was seen in the emergency room—would be considered information about the patient's past, present, or future medical condition. It doesn't matter that no information about the patient's medical condition was disclosed. What was disclosed to the security guard was the patient's name by virtue of mentioning who the wife of the patient was, the fact that the patient lived in a gated community, and the fact that the patient was seen in the emergency room. That represents PHI and should not have been disclosed to an unauthorized individual.

Editor’s note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, Oregon, answered this question for HCPro’s Briefings on HIPAA newsletter. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.

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