Patients Medical Record Posted to Facebook – HIPAA Violation

Posted on January 24, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve generally been writing more about the EMR side of EMR and HIPAA lately. For the most part, it seems readers are more interested in EMR and EHR than they are in the details of HIPAA. Although, one of my top posts ever is from back in 2006 about HIPAA Privacy Examples and HIPAA Lawsuits. It seems that people are most interested in HIPAA when it has something to do with a HIPAA violation or lawsuit.

Today’s HIPAA violation could very likely become a HIPAA lawsuit. Plus, it is a word of caution to those about training your staff on HIPAA requirements and also on proper use of social media in healthcare.

Anne Steciw posted about the violation on Search Health IT. Here’s an excerpt from her post:

Details of the health data breach provided by the Los Angeles Daily News indicate that the employee, who was provided by a staffing agency, shared a photo on his Facebook page of a medical record displaying a patient’s full name and date of admission. The employee appeared to be completely ignorant of HIPAA laws.

I’m sure every hospital and healthcare administrator is cringing at this. I’m sure many could share stories of HIPAA issues related with staffing agencies as well. Although, it’s really hard for me to understand how someone even from a staffing agency could be so ignorant to the HIPAA laws. I’m not overstating how ignorant this person was in this situation. The above article explains something even more outrageous and unbelievable:

Even after being told by other posters that he was violating the patient’s privacy, the employee argued: “People, it’s just Facebook…Not reality. Hello? Again…It’s just a name out of millions and millions of names. If some people can’t appreciate my humor than tough. And if you don’t like it too bad because it’s my wall and I’ll post what I want to. Cheers!”

To me this is totally mind boggling. I’m sure many will argue that this person was exhibiting many of the characteristics of the Facebook generation of users. That’s a cop out and an excuse, but does make a larger point that many of the next generation have these outlandish views of what’s theirs and what’s ok and reasonable. Sadly, far too many people think when it’s humor it’s ok to do anything. It’s not and I’m sure those dealing with HIPAA violations won’t find it a reasonable excuse either.

One thing I really hate about stories like this is that they give a bad name to use of social media in healthcare. Social media is like most things which can be used for good or bad. It’s a shame if incidents like this discourage people from accessing the benefits of social media.

This is another good example of how our biggest HIPAA privacy vulnerability is people.