What Happens When Nurses Violate HIPPA

Most nurses would agree that a HIPAA violation is at the bottom of their list of serious issues they would want to face in their careers. A serious HIPAA violation can result in stressful investigations by the California Board of Nursing (BRN), severe disciplinary action, and even the loss of your nursing license. 

On the other hand, minor violations may be handled internally with few repercussions. Unfortunately, regardless of your case’s specifics, it is often impossible to know what the outcome will be right away. This is where a lawyer with experience in nursing license defense may be able to help. I’ll tell you more below.

Common HIPAA Violations

While many scenarios qualify as HIPAA violations, some are more common than others. 

Among the most common HIPAA violations occurs when a nurse provides Protected Health Information (PHI) to someone who is not authorized to receive this information. Even an innocent comment to a colleague who is not caring for the patient, or sharing a patient’s health information with a friend or family member could land you in hot water if the offense is discovered. 

Providing PHI to someone unauthorized can also occur if a nurse carelessly leaves a patient’s records or chart where anyone can easily see it—even putting documents in the trash where others can easily see them could result in a violation. 

In a different but related scenario, using another employee’s login information to access electronic medical records could cause HIPAA problems because you could easily see the information you are not authorized to view. Likewise, accessing the PHI of a patient that you are not authorized to treat can cause problems. 

Social media HIPAA violations are also becoming increasingly common. Sharing protected health information online, even if you do so in a closed Facebook or another professional group, is a serious problem. This includes seemingly innocent “selfies” with a patient. Having close relationships with a patient is often a very rewarding part of a nurse’s job. Sharing photographs where the patient could be identified is definitely a violation of their medical privacy. 

Finally, more serious HIPAA offenses come into play if you use a patient’s PHI to harm anyone or personally benefit from its use, whether monetarily or otherwise. Sharing photos of patient abuse online or elsewhere can also result in serious allegations against you. 

Regardless of the seriousness of the accusation against you, it is in your best interest to work with a seasoned license defense attorney. 

Repercussions for Serious Violations

Severe violations of HIPAA policy will likely result in serious disciplinary action, including termination, suspension, or revocation of your license. This can lead to difficulties finding future employment, as most health care facilities covered by HIPAA usually won’t hire a nurse who has been fired for a HIPAA violation. 

In addition to professional penalties, if you steal someone’s private health information and use it for personal gain or try to cause harm, you could face criminal charges. Although criminal prosecutions are not common, in serious cases, such as stealing protected health information for financial gain, you could find yourself in jail for up to 10 years.  

If you are facing an accusation of a serious HIPAA violation, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer who is seasoned in license defense for nurses immediately. Always do this before disclosing any information to the Board.

Accidental HIPAA violations

Accidental HIPAA violations are most common and tend to result in less severe punishments than more serious violations. Still, even an unintentional or minor violation can cause trouble for your license. 

If it is your first minor violation, your employer may simply require you to receive additional training so you understand what is required of you in terms of patient privacy. Beyond the first minor violation, you could begin to see more severe punishments, including probation.  

When to Get Legal Help

Whether you are facing an investigation for a major or minor HIPAA violation, it is in your best interest to work with a license defense lawyer who can help you understand your rights and potentially help you achieve a better outcome on your case than you could on your own.

Scott J Harris has helped many nurses, doctors, and others reclaim their lives after a HIPAA accusation. Investigations can be incredibly stressful, and having a trusted lawyer by your side can make a huge difference not only in your case but in your life. 

To learn more, contact us SJ Harris Law today to discuss your case.

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This blog is meant to be informational. It is not meant to be all-encompassing legal advice. If you are facing a situation involving your professional license, seek counsel from a licensed attorney.