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Would asking for help on nursing assignment breach HIPAA?

Dear Nancy,

If a nursing student requests assistance on an assignment in which they are preparing nursing diagnoses for a patient, and that nursing student divulges assessment data without including any of the 18 patient identifiers, is it a breach of patient confidentiality/HIPAA?


Dear Tamara,

Your question contains few descriptors that would lead to a more focused response, so only some general comments can be made. One descriptor missing is from whom you sought assistance and what assessment data you divulged. If you asked for help from your instructor, a nurse on the unit who has responsibility for the patient where your clinical is, or a physician who sees the patient, as examples, there would be no breach of confidentiality and no breach of HIPAA. These team members work with the patient, as you do, so one is able to share information about the patient and his care. Clearly, seeking this information would need to be done in an area that is private as opposed to the cafeteria or the family waiting room on the unit.

Another question is what are the 18 patient identifiers? What is included in these identifiers? Again, if you are seeking help from the healthcare team members, appropriately sharing the identifiers would not be a problem.

It sounds as though you may have sought input from an individual not on the healthcare team and not one of your fellow students. Although it is impossible to know who this person was without you identifying him and what you specifically shared, keep in mind that HIPAA’s Privacy Rule prohibits the sharing of personal health information with someone not caring for the patient unless the patient consents or unless other exceptions apply. This prohibition might well include the assessment data and/or the 18 patient identifiers.

Similarly, a patient’s right of confidentiality prohibits the sharing of any information received during the care and treatment of an individual unless the patient consents or unless exceptions apply. Again, the prohibition might well include the assessment data and/or the 18 patient identifiers.

You might consider discussing your concerns with your clinical nurse faculty member. Doing so can resolve this particular sharing of information and provide guidance to you in future situations that may arise during your nursing education program.

Sincerely, Nancy

By | 2015-07-20T20:55:37-04:00 May 13th, 2015|Categories: Blogs, National, Nursing Careers and Jobs|0 Comments

About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.

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