What in the hell happened to HIPPA

Source: The Guardian

I asked myself that question this evening while sitting in the hospital with my family.  Reading a story online, I saw that the nurse, currently in isolation for Ebola in Dallas, had been publicly identified.  If you don’t know the ins and outs of HIPPA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) , part of that law strengthened the laws that dealt with patient medical record disclosure.

Why?  What good does it serve to plaster her name and health records all across the public airwaves?  Does the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska need to know her identity?

Ebola is a serious disease, but the ratings/revenue driving has to quit.  There is no need for 24/7 reports on the effects of Ebola.  We already know what it does as well as how nasty it happens.

With the current hysteria, it’s almost guaranteed to get you clicks if you add the word “Ebola” into your headline in some form or fashion.  That’s why I specifically refused to do it.  I’ve seen it in my page hits with the few posts I’ve written.

Unless these people have desired to make their medical history public knowledge, there is no reason for the media to engrave the Scarlet E on their forehead.  We don’t need to know who these people are.  Given how they contact trace each and every case, you will definitely be notified if you have had any contact with someone suspected or diagnosed with Ebola.  I can personally attest to that.

I used the names in the past after they were identified through the media.  From this point forward, I refuse to use names unless I know for sure that the individual has consented to their medical records being made public.  I’m not giving the name of my son out to the public because I guard my privacy like my life depends on it.  I can’t disregard someone else’s privacy knowing how I feel about mine.


8 thoughts on “What in the hell happened to HIPPA

  1. As I understand it, her friends and family identified her to the press. But like you, I’m a little suspicious of exactly how that worked. I can’t really see calling the NYT and saying, “Hi, I’m the cousin of the nurse with Ebola. Wanna know her name?” It seems likelier someone in the media got a name from someone at the hospital, then researched the nurse in public documents and on social media thoroughly enough to identify friends and family, then called around until someone who knew her confirmed it. Unfortunately, a lot of people work in hospitals. They talk to their spouses, partners, siblings, BFFs, whatever. One of those people talks to a reporter. It’s impossible to prevent.


    • I could see that, but I don’t like it either way. There’s nothing gained from identifying her other than ad revenue generation. I’d see it differently if the CDC were asking if anyone had contact with her, but that’s not done in public except for extreme circumstances.


  2. I’m not an HR professional, but isn’t there some kind of public safety exception to HIPAA non-disclosure rules? Not saying that it necessarily applies here, but isn’t there such a thing?


    • I think there is a public safety exception, but I don’t see how that could be applied here. They know who’s been in contact with her and how she likely contracted the virus.

      I could be wrong, but I see no eminent public safety issue.


  3. As a very private person myself, I agree that I don’t need to know this woman’s name and neither does most of the rest of the world. It’s probable as stated above that the press dug around until somebody either purposely or inadvertently gave them her name.

    I’m surprised her picture isn’t all over the place to. At least I haven’t seen it and I hope no one else does either, unless she chooses for people to see it.


      • I saw a picture since I posted that. According to what I saw, it was provided by tcu360.com (she’s an alumna), and an article there said her name was provided by a family member.

        The article I read that lead me there said that “She and other health care workers wore protective gear, including gowns, gloves, masks and face shields – and sometimes full-body suits – when caring for Duncan. Health officials have said there was a breach in protocol that led to the infections, but they don’t know where the breakdown occurred.”

        What I’m hearing makes me wonder if it isn’t easier to spread than the experts believed and if the contagion period isn’t longer than they thought. At any rate, hopefully they get a handle on it quickly.

        Best wishes to the young nurse and hope she recovers.


        • I’m wondering about the viability of the virus outside the body myself. I think the Spanish nurse supposedly touched her face with a tainted glove. If it’s that easily transmitted, then there’s more going on than what they’re acknowledging to the public.

          Even from where I sit, I don’t know whether I’m getting all the information that I need to stay safe. I have to trust them to a point, but I also know that I have to be careful myself.


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