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Can an RN lose his or her nursing license over a HIPAA violation?

Friday September 18, 2009
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Dear Nancy,

Can an RN lose his or her nursing license over a HIPAA violation?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Paige:

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountabilty Act requires that all covered entities (including nurses, whether they work in a hospital or other healthcare setting) protect against unauthorized disclosure of a patient's personally identifiable health information. This protection is mainly included in HIPAA's Privacy Rule, although HIPAA's Security Rule also requires that PHI stored or transmitted electronically be secure.

If PHI is released without the patient's consent or authorization, a violation of HIPAA occurs, unless the release is included in one of the exceptions to the consent/authorization requirement (e.g., public health concern). If a healthcare provider provided information in violation of HIPAA, he or she would most likely be disciplined by the employer and may be reported to the state board of nursing. Most state nurse practice acts or their rules require that a nurse licensee maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patient information (unless required to release it due to some legal basis — a court order, for example). Because the nurse-patient relationship requires the nurse to maintain patient confidentiality and privacy, a violation of that obligation could result in discipline by the state board of nursing.

If you are in such a situation, it would be important for you to retain a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works in the area of professional licensure/discipline. The attorney can represent you in this matter and help you defend yourself based on the specific facts of your situation.


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.