Q&A: Checking on a neighbor's test results
Q: I work at the front desk at a clinic. My neighbor is one of our patients, and I have even checked him in for appointments. Recently, he asked if I could see when some test results would be available. I was later called into my supervisor’s office and was told they would be opening an internal HIPAA investigation because I checked my neighbor’s records. Since I’ve already seen and handled my neighbor’s files, I already had access to his records, and he specifically asked me to check on the test for him. Is this truly a HIPAA violation?
A: This is a gray area. Since you know the patient, it would be better to refer his request to another staff member who does not have a personal relationship with the patient. Given that the patient asked you for the information and you complied with his request, I don’t see this as a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, but healthcare workers should be very careful about accessing the records of individuals they know because such access may be open to misinterpretation.
Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, is a healthcare consultant specializing in healthcare regulatory compliance and operations improvement. She is also an advisory board member for BOH. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent HCPro or ACDIS. Email your HIPAA questions to Associate Editor Heidi Samuelson at email@example.com.