I work in ICU, but was floated to the ED the other night. During my break, I went to the ICU. The patient on the monitor was having a lot of ventricular irritability and was having some long runs of Torsades. She had just been transferred back to the ICU after a RRT on M/S. I had taken care of her a few nights before. I went to the foot of her bed and saw, what I believed to be, magnesium infusing.
Because of this incident, I was called in by the DON yesterday and taken off the schedule until further investigation could be done because of violation of the HIPAA law. I also have been suspended without pay. The DON said I had invaded the patient’s privacy rights by looking at the monitor and by entering her room. What should I do?
Dear Nancy replies:
Without more details, it is difficult to provide a specific response to your question, so some general comment are in order. First, as you know, HIPAA’s privacy rule protects an individual’s personal health information from being released to someone or an entity when the patient has not consented to that release. There are some exceptions to that basic principle. As you also know, those who take care of the patient, including nurses, doctors, physical therapists, etc, are able to review and share PHI because they are providing treatment to the patient.
In the situation you describe, it sounds as though at the time you went back to the ICU and viewed the patient and the monitor, you were not caring for the patient. Moreover, the facility may strictly interpret the privacy mandates of HIPAA so this type of visit is seen as a breach of the patient’s privacy regardless of your caring for the patient some days ago.
Because this is a serious allegation, you may want to consult with a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state who works in healthcare law and with employees. He or she can provide you with specific advice on how to handle the allegations and how best to defend yourself if the investigation results in an adverse employee action against you, such as a discipline or a termination.