Protected Health Information (PHI)

Protected Health Information (PHI): Privacy, Security, and Confidentiality Best Practices

Social media tools support collaboration and teamwork in health care service delivery. Nurses and other care caregivers join social media sites, such as Facebook and WhatsApp groups, to create communities of professionals who collaborate to solve medical issues and implement effective interventions (Naslund, Aschbrenner, Marsch, & Bartels, 2016). However, the use of social media creates unique concerns for nurses, including potential violations of privacy, security, and confidentiality of patients. Although health care providers can use social media for various purposes, they should observe best practices to avoid violating patients’ rights, which are protected by the law, including HIPAA.

Various aspects of the proper use of social media by nurses and other health care providers are included in the HIPAA. The primary rule when using social media in health care dictates that care providers should not disclose PHI (McLawhorn, De Martino, Fehring, & Sculco, 2016). Protected information is any health data that HIPAA-covered agencies and their business associates creates, receives, stores, or transmits in the course of providing health care services. Therefore, caregivers should avoid using PHI on social media, including videos or images that can identify a patient. They can only post the information if a patient has given written consent. Besides, they can only use such information for the purpose specified in the consent. Hence, nurses can only use social media sites to post medical tips, event details, emerging medical scholarship, and marketing information.

Nurses should understand the legal frameworks that guide their work regarding the privacy, security, and confidentiality of patients. Confidentiality is the professional obligation to hold patient information in confidence. For example, a nurse should not reveal patient information, such as medical history, to a third party who is not directly involved in patient care. Privacy entails a patient’s right to decide on the way personal information should be used and shared. For instance, a patient should give consent for his or her data to be shared. Security is the principle of ensuring that personal information is not assessed by third parties, particularly through technology. For instance, caregivers should protect their information systems using passwords and other mechanisms to prevent breaches and illegal access (Gurney, Gillespie, McMahon, & Kolbuk, 2017). Interdisciplinary collaboration should safeguard sensitive electronic health information because of the risk involved in multiple users.

Interprofessional team members should be aware of the evidence that relates to the PHI and the enactment of HIPAA. Although aggregate data is lacking regarding the number of nurses whom their services have been terminated for HIPAA violation, at least 50 employees lost their jobs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago (Wofford, 2019). The workers, including nurses, are among the hundreds of individuals who have faced the negative consequence of their violation of the legal use of patient records. The most frequent sanction used by healthcare organizations includes termination or warning in case of a violation. Financial penalties are imposed on covered entities to ensure accountability in their use of PHI. Consequently, healthcare organizations implement policies, procedures, and best practices that dictate how patients’ information should be used in their facilities (HIPAA, 2015). The law contains some best practice guidelines for proper use of social media in health care.

Overall, nurses should use patient information to the extent that it is valuable for safe and quality care objectives. They should avoid actions that might place patients at risk of privacy violations through their private information. Although they might be tempted to post their professional lives on social media, they should avoid any potential breach of laws that protect patient privacy and confidentiality.

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