A celebrity patient is admitted to the hospital. Your friend Jennifer is a nurse on the floor where the male celebrity patient is staying. All of the nurses are going out of their way to work on that floor. The patient’s records and privacy must be treated like those of any other patient. The hospital has strict protocol, and only the nurses and staff involved in his care and treatment are permitted to work that floor and interact with that patient.
Jennifer has always been a big fan of the celebrity. The next time she is working her shift, she takes him his dinner. When she enters the room, he is sleeping. He is hooked up to an IV and standard monitoring machines. He is also bandaged due to his wounds from a car accident. He looks pretty beat up but is recovering nicely. Jennifer decides to take a picture with her personal cell phone that she snuck in. This is for her personal use. She does not intend to sell, post, or distribute the picture in any way.
After she takes the picture, she heads back to the nurses’ station, and she and the other nurses gather around the computer. She glimpses what looks like the celebrity’s medical records, but she is not sure. She does know that some of those nurses do not work on her floor and are not, therefore, authorized to view the records. She also remembers there was a note on the celebrity’s chart about an error on the medical history, but she knew the day shift would address it. She wraps up her shift and heads home.
She decides to stop at her local diner and have a late night coffee and snack. When she walks in, she sees the local diner is packed with entertainment reporters hanging out to get the scoop on the celebrity’s condition. She giggles to herself as she quietly drinks her coffee since she is involved in treating him, and no one there knows.
She pays for her coffee and snack and leaves the diner. The next day, she is getting ready for her noon shift and turns on the television. She is startled to see an update on the news about the celebrity and HER cell phone picture splashed on the TV. There are also private details about his injuries and medical records in the news story. When she goes to grab her phone from her purse, her stomach sinks when she finds her phone is gone. She must have left it at the diner by accident, and someone there picked it up and distributed her private photo.
When she goes to work, the hospital administrator is outraged and threatening to fire anyone involved in this violation. A full investigation is launched.
The celebrity is discharged within a week, and Jennifer thinks this horrible incident is behind her. The next month, she receives a summons for a lawsuit. The celebrity is suing her for distribution of the picture. The image was traced back to her cell phone, and he is alleging her photo of him while incapacitated has damaged his career because his attractive appearance is a large part of his brand. He is also suing her for defamation since the medical information given to the public was false. Jennifer is panic-stricken.
She goes into work to try to get her life back to normal and is immediately escorted to the administrator’s office. She is told she is fired for violating the hospital’s patient privacy regulations and the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act law. She is told that since she violated policy by distributing private medical details of a patient to the public, the hospital will not defend her in any civil lawsuit. Jennifer instantly tries to explain she had nothing to do with the leaking of information or distributing the photo, but the administrator will not listen. She is escorted out of the building.
In this assignment, you will describe the following issues:
the legal obligation healthcare providers have to protect private health information and to maintain accurate medical records including information regarding the purpose of maintaining correct information within medical records and who is charged with ownership of medical records,
the celebrity patient’s legal argument surrounding the release of his private health information and the inaccuracy of the information released, and
a legal defense of Jennifer, who is being accused of mismanaging health information. Your defense should be based on legal theory and not just your opinion or feeling.
In order to respond to this case study, you will need to research at least two legal cases that demonstrate both the patient’s and the provider’s privacy rights and obligations regarding medical records and private health information. Briefly explain the issues of the two cases you cite, and describe their outcomes. How do the cases relate to the above scenario? Do you agree with the court’s decisions in the two cases? Why, or why not?
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