HIPAA Policies and the Use of Cell Phones

Healthcare is constantly introducing new technology, in order to increase efficiency, lower costs and improve patient care services. In doing so, one must consider the consequences that may come with enhanced technology, such as the violation of patient privacy and care. These new technologies, like smartphones and social media platforms, have significantly influenced healthcare rules and regulations.  Smartphones and other new technologies are being utilized in healthcare for scanning medications, communications between nurses and physicians, verifying lab work and so much more.  Patients are also able to use these new technologies to do things such as, send a clinical message, book appointments and communicate progress and declines in their treatments, with ease.

Social media, and more specifically video chatting platforms like Skype, have created a source for patients to be able to get healthcare attention conveniently, and at a cheaper rate, than visiting a doctor’s office. By using Skype, a patient can virtually visit the doctor and be treated. This increases efficiency and saves both parties time and money.  Technology has revolutionized the modern-day practice of medicine, improving it beyond measure.  But with these improvements, come consequences.  There have been negative impacts in regard to professional ethics, legal requirements related to data security, confidentiality, and patient’s right to privacy.

HIPAA Policies and the Use of Cell Phones

There is a specific section of the HIPAA that deals with use of mobile phones, in relation to the practice of healthcare and medical services. This section of HIPAA focuses on cell phones and any other device that receives, transmits or stores patient health information. HIPAA states that mobile devices, that have been adopted for use in the medical field, should be secure and have little to no risk of compromise (Sneiderman & Ackerman, 2014).  A secure network is vital when it comes to the use of these devices, so that private patient information is not compromised, and confidentiality stays intact. Additionally, any transmission system that may put confidential information at risk, should be terminated.

It is also important to note that some applications, when installed to a device for healthcare use, require the assistance of a secondary party. In doing so, the secondary party may become privy to confidential patient information.  Lyles et al, 2014, states that Installing such an application by the health service provider is solely their responsibility. The physician or healthcare personnel uses these applications at their own risk.  Therefore, if confidential patient information is ever leaked, a lawsuit can be filed against the healthcare personnel.  That is why it is of utmost importance to verify any and all applications or platforms used to handle confidential healthcare information.

Scenario

When you are a nurse, you treat a plethora of patients.  Chances are, you will know some, and you may even have a famous patient.  Just because a nurse may personally know their patient or know of them, does not mean that, that patient has any less right to privacy, than the next.  Medical personnel are not allowed to share any patient information outside of their treatment.  Even is a patient is famous.  Every person has their full right to confidentiality.  In the scenario, a nurse has a famous musician as her patient, she takes pictures of the musician, in his unconscious state and sends them to her friend along with his home address and phone number.  When the nurse’s friend receives the pictures, she proceeds to post the pictures on Facebook. The pictures go viral, and after a little while, various hashtags are developed to send well wishes to the musician. This may seem like a kind gesture but, it is very illegal and completely violates the policies of HIPAA. The nurse who is caring for the musician undergoes serious scrutiny and investigation.

Since the pictures were taken at the hospital, the HIPAA regulatory body will conduct an impromptu investigation alongside the hospital’s management team (Davenport, 2015). The investigation takes place in order to uncover the person, or persons, responsible for the breach of confidential patient information. The medical personnel responsible will be terminated, lose their license to practice medicine and will most-likely be incarcerated. 

Mitigation of the Scenario

To mitigate the scenario and prevent it from ever happening again, the HIPAA regulatory body imposed new rules that called for minimal, personal phone usage during the length of their hospital shift. If a healthcare personnel needed to use a phone for medical purposes or patient care, they were able to use the hospital’s landline (Davenport, 2015). Imposing this measure would reduce the chance that any confidential patient information could be leaked through personal cellphone usage.  Additionally, the regulatory authority requested an increase in funding from the ministry of health, in order to allow hospitals to purchase the latest technology for effective and secure communication, both in and outside of the hospital. Such sophisticated technologies would exponentially decrease any threats to patient information.

Finally, according to the scenario for active mitigation, the nurse who leaked the patient information should be made to face the law. Prosecuting the nurse, for breach of patient confidentiality, will influence other medical personnel to follow HIPAA guidelines when treating patients, in order to avoid incarceration.  This will hopefully prevent this scenario from being repeated in the future (Sneiderman & Ackerman, 2014). Through such mitigation, patients will be comforted in knowing that their medical information is secure and will remain confidential.

Pros and Cons of Smartphone Usage in Healthcare

The integration of Smartphones into healthcare has pushed for a lot of advancement in the healthcare sector.  Today, emergency personnel are able to integrate their smartphones together with the Intensive Care Unit.  This integration has provided improved efficiency for monitoring patient progress remotely.  Smartphones are also used inside of the hospital for patients vital monitoring.   They have the ability to connect to a patient’s in-room monitors and notify caregivers, in the instance of an emergency.  Smartphones are fast, convenient and portable.  They make communication in healthcare easy.  Communication plays a vital role in the healthcare field, it can mean the difference between life and death for some patients.  With the use of Smartphones in healthcare, the speed of patient care can be improved, and lives can be saved. 

The use of smartphones in the healthcare field also has its downfalls.  In the current generation, the use of smartphones has brought about an addiction, (Karasz et al, 2013). Social media platforms and the need to stay connected, are the leading source for this addiction.  Many individuals do not even realize how often they are on social media platforms.  A person will pick up their phone to check the time and end up on Instagram for an hour.  Healthcare is not immune to this addiction.  Healthcare personnel can easily lose their concentration while providing patient care due to the overuse and abuse of new technology.

All information found in a healthcare facility falls under the regulations of HIPAA and therefore, is confidential.  The confidentiality of private patient information has been compromised by the use of smartphones in the healthcare field.  Medical personnel can easily leak confidential information, via social media platforms or even text messaging (Davenport, 2015). 

Conclusion

Overall, the use of smartphones and new technology in the healthcare field have both positives and negatives.  Smartphones and new technology have revolutionized the healthcare field.  When used correctly, they have made a vast array of improvements in continuity, efficiency and urgency of patient care.  But, it is of utmost importance to heed caution when using smartphones for use in healthcare. Healthcare providers must adhere to the rules and regulations of patient confidentiality in order to prevent a breach in patient privacy.  I believe that all medical personnel should be properly educated about HIPAA, confidentiality policies and what exactly is expected of them, in regard to patient privacy and care.  In order to fully ensure that all medical professionals adhere to and observe guidelines, there needs to be consistent training and assessments, on the topic of patient confidentiality and any updates that may occur.

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HIPAA Policies and the Use of Cell Phones. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved July 25, 2021 , from
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