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Is it a HIPPA violation for a hospital to release contact information for a former employee and later someone who worked as a visiting nurse?

Friday February 28, 2014
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

More than six years ago, while employed in NICU, I became a certified lactation counselor, assisting many mothers in NICU, Mother/Baby and L/D units. I left the hospital setting to work at a visiting nurse service performing mother/baby home visits, including assessments and educating
breastfeeding mothers.

Through an agreement with a local hospital, I also visited nursing mothers in the hospital who were experiencing difficulties. After about one year, the hospital withdrew the offer of assisting new mothers, although I visited most of them after discharge either by request of their physician or per mother's request. Due to company downsizing, that position was eliminated.

I haven't worked as a lactation nurse in more than three years. Last week I received a phone call from a breastfeeding mother who is experiencing decreased milk supply, etc. She said someone in the birthing center at the hospital where I previously made lactation rounds had given her my name and number when she called there requesting assistance. I agreed to answer her questions as I would with a family member or neighbor. I have kept up-to-date with breastfeeding issues and am current on my certification.

I wasn't necessarily concerned about liability, my question involves the legality of the hospital releasing my name and phone number without my permission. Is this a HIPAA violation? Years ago, I was employed at that hospital and know many of the nurses still working there. I'm still very interested in the field of lactation and have been considering returning to the field; I miss the moms and babies. I just don't feel comfortable about the hospital giving out my name/number. Should I contact the unit director regarding this issue? This is an isolated incident, and I wonder if I should just dismiss it this time.

Katie



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Katie,

Although giving out your name and number without your permission is not what should have happened, this is not a HIPAA violation. The HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules are applicable to patients, not employees. However, your private information should be kept confidential unless you give your consent to have it given out. Your consent should not be a blanket one. Specifying you agree to have it given to those who ask for it after checking with you first, for example, would be a way for you to decide if you do indeed want to talk with the person who is needing advice
about lactation.

You did not specify who gave your name and number to the person you talked with. The unit director might be the best person to share your concerns with, but realize he or she may not be able to present all staff on the unit from giving out this information. If there is a policy that personal information about staff is not shared with patients or former patients, the unit director's control would be much more effective.

If you are interested in reviving your interest in this area, you might want to consider setting up some sort of formal or informal referral service with the hospital/unit. You, then, share the information you want to share with potential clients. As an example, you might see if the facility would agree you could place brochures on the unit concerning your skills and expertise and a contact number or web page patients could visit to learn more about you. This situation might be an entrepreneurial one just waiting for development.

Regards,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.