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Health Care Attorney Warns About HIPAA Privacy Issues In Social Media

This is the first of a three part post addressing the legal concerns of social networking in the health care arena.

Legal expert, David Harlow, Esq., Health Care Attorney and Consultant at The Harlow Group, LLC in Boston, addresses the legal issues.

Q:  Barbara:
What are the legal implications for doctors, nurses and hospitals engaging in social media?

A:  David: Health care providers are concerned about HIPAA privacy issues – HIPAA violations may occur as a result of staff posts, or as a result of patient, family or caregiver posts – as well as potential liability for medical advice provided on line.  Physicians and nurses have been sanctioned and fired for privacy breaches via social media, so these are real concerns.  Some communications that folks think are OK may in fact be violations of HIPAA or state privacy laws, so great care in training is needed.  In addition, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

When Is It Ok For Doctors To Write About Their Patients?


I can’t find it now, but on one of our posts somewhere MovieDoc has stated that doctors can never ethically write about their patients since they are incapable of giving truly informed consent. Besides the obvious “huh?’ response I have to the idea that patients aren’t capable of making decisions like this, I question the basic assumption that this should never happen.

The medical literature is replete with published anonymized case studies of patients with various maladies. For psychiatry in particular, early psychiatric classification was based on longitudinal descriptions of diseases. If it weren’t for the early case descriptions of Kaposi’s sarcoma in gay men published in the 1980′s, AIDS would not have been identified as a new disease. Case studies can and should be published to advance medical science. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Blogging Guidelines For Physicians

There’s been quite a kerfuffle over the “Unprofessional” post Dr V wrote. A lot of people have been very shrill in denouncing physicians who write about their experiences using social media — blogs, twitter, facebook, etc — with particular emphasis on those who do not use their real names.

So, while I won’t tell someone how they should blog/tweet, or try to impose my vision of professional standards on a community that clearly is still coming to consensus with public conversations by healthcare workers, I will offer you my personal guidelines and values that I use in determining what I am willing to put into the public domain. These are just my opinions; your mileage may vary.

As a general principle: patients give physicians and nurses access to intimate details of their lives and they have a reasonable and valid expectations that we will respect their privacy and dignity. When using social media, that does need to be maintained. How you do that requires careful attention and may be controversial regardless of your approach.

Don’t blog or tweet anything that you wouldn’t want you boss/hospital administration to read. Stress test yourself by informing your employer or CEO about your blog and invite them to read it. That will keep you honest! Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

How Your Medication List Makes You The Perfect Pharma Target

Give me your medication list and I’ll tell you your health problems. It happens every day in emergency rooms across the country as confused elderly patients present for an acute problem unable to describe their past medical history, but equipped with a list of medications in their wallet:

Metformin = Type-2 diabetes

Synthroid = Hypothyroidism

Lipitor + Altace + Lasix + Slo-K = Ischemic cardiomyopathy

Lexapro = A little anxious or depressed

Viagra = Well, you know…

I bet I’d be right better than 90 percent of the time. Now, imagine you’re a pharmaceutical company wanting to target people with those chronic diseases. Where might you find them?

No problem. Just pay the insurers to provide you patients’ drug lists. No names need be exchanged in keeping with HIPAA requirements. But the drugs list attached to folks’ cable TV box? Perfect. You’re in — with no legal strings attached. Then, according to the Wall Street Journal, just fire away with that targeted direct-to-consumer advertising on TV, courtesy of your local healthcare insurance provider.

No wonder our healthcare industry movers and shakers love the electronic medical record. Healthcare privacy? What healthcare privacy?

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Medical Errors: Should Doctors Always Fess Up?

From the Medscape Medical Ethics article entitled “‘Some Worms Are Best Left In The Can’: Should You Hide Medical Errors?“:

Consequences aside, from a strictly ethical perspective, if a patient doesn’t realize that his physician made a mistake, should the physician fess up?

Before you jump to conclusions (as I did), look at the article’s three parts. It’s about a survey. The title is on the inflammatory side; the article is a window into physicians’ views. The introduction continues:

Evidence of the complex prisms through which physicians view these issues was apparent in the replies to four questions asked in Medscape’s exclusive ethics survey. More than 10,000 physicians responded to the survey in 2010.

Subheads:

– Mistakes that don’t harm patients. “Are there times when it’s acceptable to cover up or avoid revealing a mistake if that mistake would not cause harm to the patient?” Sixty percent said “no;” the others split between “yes” and “it depends.”

  • I personally can understand this note from a survey respondent: “If there is a mistake that would have no medical effect but would cause extreme, uncalled-for anxiety, then yes,” especially since I know people (some elders, some young) who would indeed freak out, out of proportion. But, that’s a big judgment call.
  • I have a harder time accepting this comment: “Why shake the patient’s trust in the doctor for something that is irrelevant?” Irrelevant is a big judgment call, and I’d be really concerned about the natural human tendency to minimize the probable impact of a mistake — especially if a provider thinks it’s all about maintaining a patient’s trust, even when the topic is their own error.

– Mistakes that might harm patients. Ninety five percent said “no;” some still said “yes!” One commented: “If the mistake has not progressed to harmfulness, then it’s essentially a non-issue. Treatment correction takes place and you move on.” Another says if there hasn’t been harm yet, “I think a ‘wait and see’ approach is okay.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at e-Patients.net*

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