With the incredible breadth of medical professions consisting of nurses, primary care physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, and even measly little medical students like me, it’s easy to get lost in the differences between each component of the healthcare system. But there’s one unifying responsibility that we all honor – that of patient confidentiality. It’s called HIPAA, and it’s a beautiful thing. 🙂
Patients trust us with their most personal information on a daily basis. Things which they won’t even tell their loved ones. Things we may feel the inclination to judge but cannot act on. Things that can tear apart relationships. Things that can forever scar a person’s image in society. It’s like we’re the only people who have access to a patient’s unwritten diary of thoughts and past experiences.
But we don’t.
In my opinion, HIPAA is one of the major pillars upholding the integrity of the modern day healthcare professional. Without it, patients would feel reluctant to trust their treatment team, less information would be known, and a less comprehensive, potentially inappropriate regimen may be started.
What’s more admirable is how well the HIPAA rules are enforced – no one is safe from potentially losing their license in the event of a violation. Reminders are plastered all over the hospital (even in the elevators) reminding people not to share confidential patient information. A component of our training before starting in any healthcare setting deals with understanding HIPAA and the rights of any patient to withhold information (ie, not telling a family member that they have HIV).
HIPAA violations are taken extremely seriously no matter how innocent the intentions may have been. For example, if you hear that a close friend has been admitted to the hospital you work in, accessing his or her medical information without being a part of the treatment team or directly invested in the care of the patient can be grounds for termination from the hospital.
Patients trust healthcare professionals, and to keep their trust, we need to continue being mindful of sharing patient information. This is an essential cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship, in my humble second-year-med-student opinion. 🙂