Is it legal to view a patient’s chart for information gathering purposes before clocking in for work?

By | 2022-02-15T17:56:56-05:00 April 2nd, 2012|0 Comments


Dear Nancy,

I have received different answers on whether it is legal to view or access a patient’s chart for information gathering purposes before clocking in for work. Can you please shed some light on this subject?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Estelle,

Because your question is a little unclear, (it seems there are two issues included in the question that are not fully developed), a specific response cannot be made. Some general comments are best.

One issue is that of “clocking in” for work. When an employee does that, he or she begins the time during which work hours are calculated, as long as the activities done during that time are indispensable to the job and integral to it. So, if you clock in 30 minutes before you are to report for duty and begin doing what is considered your work for that day, you will need to be paid for that time, based on the Fair Labor Standards Act and any state labor laws that apply. Your employer should have a policy about when employees are to clock in and how much earlier they can do so, before their actual scheduled work time.

The second issue is of concern to you based on HIPAA and other applicable state and federal confidentiality and privacy laws. If you are going to provide care to a particular patient on a specific day and you are reviewing the chart to ready yourself for the patient’s care, there would be no violation of HIPAA or other applicable laws, since there is no violation in viewing patient health information by those on the healthcare team. As you know, though, that information cannot be used for any other purpose than to provide care to the patient. So, again, generally speaking, there should not be a violation of any of these laws.

If, on the other hand, you are at the facility on a day you are not scheduled to work, but drop by just to read the chart and see how the patient is doing, that would be a different scenario under both issues.

Check with your employer to clear up when you can clock in, so you know you are adhering to those mandates.



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