Healthcare : Healthcare laws and ethical provisions describe patient medical records as private and confidential which means no one, including practicing nurses, should access the records without proper authorization. In the event this happens, as in the case scenario where the nurse accessed his ex-husband’s medical records, it is deemed an act of violation of patient privacy and should be punishable by law (Anthony, Appari, & Johnson, 2014). If the hospital and authorities can prove the nurse has violated both hospital policies and the privacy of the patient without legitimate work reasons or appropriate permission, the employer has reason to terminate the nurse’s employment contract.
Breach of patient privacy is an act of crime that should be reported to the right authorities in charge of protecting patient records such as hospitals, the patients (or their representatives), the board of nursing, or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) among others. However, the nature and magnitude of the act decide what authority to report to. In this case, the most appropriate body to report would be the hospital (the nurse’s employer). This is because organizational policies and regulations of healthcare sector which also include guidelines by HHS require cases involving an individual’s breach of patient records to be reported to the appointed authority within a hospital or a supervisor who would then take appropriate actions.
An employer has vast options to choose from when deciding what disciplinary actions to take against breach of the code of ethics and regulations. Some of the options include termination of employment, suspension, reporting the matter to higher authorities, and fining the employee. As such, if the employer proves beyond reasonable doubt that the nurse had malicious intent to access the patient’s record, he/she has the right to terminate the employment contract between the organization and the employee and a legal responsibility to report to the behavior to appropriate bodies such as HHS or the nursing board for further actions (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2019). This prevents or minimizes the possibilities of the employer being sued due to a nurse’s misconduct as the doctrine of respondeat superior provides.
Breach of the patient’s confidentially in the field of nursing practice is a crime. However, the legal framework provides a few exceptions to the provision by outlining circumstances that can justify the misconduct. Public health and safety, prevention/detection of crime, and judicial proceedings are some of the reasons that provide grounds for an exception to the law (Blightman, Griffiths, & Danbury, 2013). Therefore, if the nurse can prove she accessed her ex-husband’s medical records, for instance, to gather critical data related to a court proceeding tied to the nurse; or the ex-husband is believed to be a serious risk to national security in terms of health; or she suspects the ex-husband has a serious infection that can jeopardize the health of the public, among other factors, her actions would not amount to breach of privacy.
To conclude the case at hand involving the nurse requires a more
comprehensive look that goes beyond the legal
and ethical lens. For instance, some additional factors that might be considered include the policies of the
hospital, the reasons for access to the
records, and nature of the access. The hospital might incorporate policies that
permit its staff members to access patient records with proper authorization
freely, and if the nurse acted
blindly upon this guideline, she is innocent of breach of privacy (Anthony, Appari, & Johnson, 2014).
Further, the nurse might have accessed
the records out of emergency in the sense that her ex-husband might have been
in critical health condition and needed immediate medical intervention or the
access of information was probably accidental and not intentional. If these
factors can hold water for the nurse’s sake, she might be free from prosecution
or legal implications of the breach.
Anthony, D. L., Appari, A., & Johnson, M. E. (2014). Institutionalizing HIPAA compliance: Organizations and competing logics in US health care. Journal of health and social behavior, 55(1), 108-124.
Blightman, K., Griffiths, S. E., & Danbury, C. (2013). Patient confidentiality: when can a breach be justified?. Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care & Pain, 14(2), 52-56.
Protecting Healthcare Information: the HIPAA Security and Breach Notification Rules | Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.privacyrights.org/consumer-guides/protecting-health-information-hipaa-security-and-breach-notification-rules